Just keeping afloat in 2015, takes incredible fortitude and courage. Seemingly at every turn, we see violence, sadness, corruption, natural disaster, loss of morality, indifference and a general “dumbing down” of standards that used to be impenetrable. When we have such forces as our backdrop for life, our yardstick, how do we possibly deal with our personal devastation in the aftermath of crime? How do we personally “keep afloat” and find a sense of hope? It is the hardest challenge we will ever face!
Who Does a Better Job?
Although we have made great strides with the infrastructure of victim advocacy over the years, the humanity, the compassion and support and the “going the extra mile” often lags behind when it comes to governmental services perpetually faced with financial cuts. In my opinion, it is the grass root non-profit organizations who have figured out how to do more with less and made friends with community partners, and survivors of crime themselves who appear to be better equipped to provide the services most needed.
Nuts & Bolts of Victim Impact Statement:
During the sentencing phase of a trial or board of pardons and parole hearing, a crime victim is metaphorically standing at the crossroads of their “forever after existence.” That person hopefully has given much thought and has decided what is truly important to convey to the court or BPP officials individually or collectively with the assistance of a paid advocate or fellow survivor. As the surviving victim, you should ask yourself before you even attempt to compose a statement, what should be my primary focus? What do I really want? A review of possible options is helpful – non-hierarchical)
- The emotional impact and devastation of my loss;
- Financial restitution;
- Requesting a verbal or written apology from the offender;
- Having the opportunity to add new information to the formal record with the potential of altering the length and provisions of sentencing;
- Using this forum for emotional release;
- Describing the future legacy of your murdered loved one;
- Educating judicial officials regarding your unique needs and nuances of the process which were previously overlooked but very important to you;
- Expressing forgiveness to “a higher power” as a way of self-healing;
- In the State of Connecticut when delivering your victim impact statement, you are not limited regarding the length of time, nor is the content edited in any way, according to our Board of Pardons and Parole website and personal experience.
- In the State of South Carolina, a videotaped statement cannot exceed five minutes in the case of one victim, ten minutes for multiple victims.
- (Be sure to check with your state as rules vary from state to state.)
- Physical Environment – During a court sentencing, you will be facing the judge with the defendant behind you or to the right or left of you as you make your presentation. Your statement is part of the official court record, or hearing.
- Restitution and Compensation (From the National Center for Victims of Crime) Increasing the likelihood that restitution will be ordered: Victims can do two things to increase the likelihood that restitution will be ordered in their case: gather information about their financial loss, and request that restitution be ordered. To increase the chances that restitution will be ordered, victims should make sure their victim impact statement includes a summary of the out-of-pocket expenses resulting from the crime
- The difference between restitution and compensation: While restitution is court-ordered payment from a convicted offender, crime victim compensation is a state government program that pays many of the out-of-pocket expenses of victims of violent crime even when there is no arrest or prosecution. Ordinarily, to be eligible for compensation the victim is required to report the offense within a certain amount of time, cooperate in the investigation and prosecution, and file an application within a set time. The expenses covered by compensation vary and are usually set by state law. All compensation programs cover medical expenses, most cover counseling, and very few cover any property loss.
- In comparison, restitution can only be ordered in cases where someone has been convicted. However, restitution can be ordered in almost any case (although courts may be required to order it only for certain offenses), and can be ordered for a wider variety of losses, including property loss. A victim cannot collect both compensation and restitution for the same losses.
- Technology- Videoconferencing is a concept that has existed since 1996. The clear leader in this area appears to be the State of Michigan. They began in 2004 with the Department of Corrections bringing the total of videoconferencing sites to 64, including five “telemed” sites. Imagine never having to leave prison grounds for prisoner –immigration hearings, dietician and mental health appointments! This is an up and coming industry of vast proportions. MDs can even use electronic stethoscopes to listen to heart and lungs and view x-rays instantly! Viola! This is all in the name of reducing costs and increasing efficiency!
- Is there a line in the sand that needs to be drawn to say that victims of crime also need these innovative heath care services, particularly the elderly after having suffered their tremendous losses? Indeed!
- “Intangibles”- meaning loss of productivity, medical care, mental health, use of public safety services, property loss, “tangible losses”, “quality of life” loss . The problem is, the data available is so old – from the National Institute of Justice – January 1996, and can only be used as a general reference. Basically, 19 years ago…
- Estimates of monetary values, including lost wages were in the range of $500,000 to $7 million;
What is Pain and Suffering and Quality of life really worth?
- In 1996, violent crime was 3% of all medical spending and 14% of injury related spending and 10-20% of mental health expenditures in the U.S.
- At that time, losses per incident of criminal victimization (including attempts) looked like this for fatal crimes including rape and murder-
- Loss of productivity- $1,000,000;
- Medical Care /Ambulance- $16,300;
- Social-Victim Services- 0
- Mental Health – $4,800;
- Police & Fire Services – $1,300;
- Property Loss/Damage – $120.00
- Murder “Tangible Losses (Subtotal) “$1,030.000
- “Intangible Quality of Life Losses” $1,910.00;
- Total = $2,940.000
(Reference for above from: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/victcost.pdf)
Victim Impact Statement Assistance Service
I do not put much faith in numbers, for they can always be manipulated to serve ones’ point of view, human error is rampant and they do not tell the whole story. I believe that an investment in people and their true life stories illuminate our understanding and pave the way for change far better than what a calculator reveals.
In some cases, the surviving victims may be too emotionally distraught, or may not have the ability to correctly express their feelings. A professional who has experience as a victim of crime, as well as assisting others through trials, can help you put your thoughts into a professionally written statement, and coach you on your delivery in court.
If you are anticipating the task of victim impact statement writing with trepidation, perhaps I can assist.