Remarks of Mary Lou Leary, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
Public Hearing on Promising Practices
In Crime Victim/Survivor Services
In Probation and Parole
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Thank you, Anne [Seymour]. And let me thank Barbara [Broderick], Carl [Wicklund], and the APPA staff for organizing this forum and for their strong and steady commitment to victims.
On a personal note, I've known and worked with Carl for many years - both during my time at the Office of Justice Programs and as Director of the National Center for Victims of Crime - and I've always admired his understanding of victims' rights and his appreciation of victims' needs. I'm grateful for the work he's done to keep the community corrections field focused on those issues.
Barbara also deserves enormous credit for making victim services central to APPA's mission. A great example is the resolution the APPA passed in April encouraging community corrections agencies to prioritize victim restitution. That's a clear reflection of the commitment the APPA has made to victims under her leadership.
I want to say a special thanks to my colleague, Joye Frost, and her fabulous staff in our Office for Victims of Crime for supporting this forum and for working so hard to make sure that the voices of victims are heard by corrections officials. Joye has done such an amazing job keeping victims' issues high on the Justice Department's agenda. And I know she gets great guidance from her terrific staff, particularly from her corrections specialist, Kim Kelberg.
And let me just acknowledge some other OJP colleagues who are with us - Jim Burch, the Acting Director of our Bureau of Justice Assistance; and Jeff Slowikowski, the Acting Administrator of our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Also, Scott Matson from our Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking Office has joined us, as has Darla Simms from the Office on Violence Against Women. I appreciate that they could all be here today.
Our reason for being here is to hear from the people who, next to offenders, are most directly affected by what happens during the probation and parole process. So much rides on what community corrections professionals do, but it's my belief that no group has a greater vested interest in their work than crime victims. As many victims will tell you, probation and parole are two of the most critical points of a victim's involvement with the criminal and juvenile justice systems. Depending on how things are handled, a victim's experience can be either satisfying and restorative or a source of frustration and continued pain. Simply put, the actions of probation and parole officers can make or break a victim's faith in the system.
Over the years, we've seen an evolution in thinking about the corrections community's - and the justice system's - responsibilities to victims. It used to be that the system felt little sense of accountability to victims. Victims were often seen as incidental or, worse, a collective nuisance. Thankfully, that's changed - if not universally, then at least, I think, in most cases. Now, we have a system where victims are recognized somewhere on a continuum - ranging from a grudging acknowledgement of their legal rights to active support throughout the justice process. Our goal now is to make sure that victims' rights are observed across the board - in every jurisdiction - and that services are available at every point along the way.
Probation and parole professionals can make a unique and important contribution here. Law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges all play critical roles in ensuring that victims get services to meet immediate needs - whether it's by protecting them from further contact with an offender, by referring them to shelter and other assistance, or by counseling them on their rights as courtroom participants. But community corrections professionals like most of you take victim assistance to the next level.
You're in a position to help victims re-establish their lives and return to a sense of normalcy. You're the ones who collect restitution and carry out other compensatory sanctions. You're the ones who ensure that no-contact orders are enforced when an offender is in the community. You're the ones who make sure victims' voices are heard in pre-sentence and parole hearings. And you're the ones who let them know when offenders come up for parole or get out of prison. You have the ability to empower victims - arguably more so than any other group of justice system professionals.
We've seen this happening in a number of communities - community corrections professionals working closely with victim assistance programs and directly with victims. We've seen successful restitution programs. We've heard about effective notification programs where victims are consistently kept apprised of changes in an offender's status. And we've seen victim-offender mediation programs that have been used to great effect in appropriate circumstances.
What makes these programs work? We'd like to know the answer, and we'd like to figure out how we can take them to scale. What are the principles that guide them? What partnerships does it take to build these successful programs? What reforms - both concretely and philosophically - are necessary to ensure that probation and parole professionals are responsive to victims? And, most important for our purposes at OJP, what can we - as policy-makers and program designers at the federal level - do to help replicate these practices?
I want to emphasize that this is more than a forum for victims and others to air their views - though it is that. This is an opportunity - for you and for us - to talk about the issues and challenges you're all facing and to explore what we can do about them together. Our goal is to get information that will help us make real, practical changes to improve the way our community corrections system responds to victims.
We have almost a full complement of OJP leaders here, and we'd really like to hear your thoughts. I know we'll hear testimony from several witnesses in just a few moments - and I look forward to hearing from each of them. I also invite the rest of you to share your feedback in the question and answer session that follows.
So, please, consider this your chance to tell OJP and APPA how you think we ought to be working to better support victims in the community corrections process.
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