The United States of America criminal justice system remains in state of continual change. Often, the system is ready to adopt reforms aimed at addressing pertinent issues. The overall objective, however, remains that of delivery of justice. It is on that context that this paper shall discuss the place of victimology in the American criminal justice system. It must not be lost of us that the resolution of crime entails three cardinal players. These are the victim, the state and the criminal. While the law has over the past concentrated on the latter two, it has had little time and consideration for the former. On that respect, one must appreciate the area of victimology as the study of victims and their relation to the offenders, the state and the society at large. It is equally imperative to appreciate the role of victimology in making the overall criminal justice system a success. The traditional approach whereby the state dealt largely with the criminals to the exclusion of the victims has been found as inefficient and inconclusive in as far as resolving the underlying conflicts is concerned. In that strain, it has been found necessary to address issues in relation to the victim. Take for instance, a rape victim.
Previously, the state would be more interested in arraigning the perpetrator and ensuring the latter faces the full wrath of the law. On the other hand, the state would not give appropriate aid and necessary help to the victim. Under victimology, the state is encouraged to concentrate more on the victim of the crime and ensure that she receives the necessary assistance and counsel that would enable her fully recover from the tragedy that had/has colored her life.
The main problem in the criminal justice system is much more of philosophical than empirical. That is to say, the state, which remains the responsible organ to ensure public order and justice, has perceived crime from the retributive point of view. This is to say, the state seeks to punish the perpetrators of crime. The reasoning behind such an approach is twofold. Foremost, it is assumed that by punishing criminals, the larger public would be prevented and dis-incentivized from engaging in criminal activities. Secondly, the state believes that in punishing the criminals, they are taught lessons in life and equally rehabilitated into social organization and conformation. In that context, the state assumes a futuristic approach whereby future crimes are prevented.
It is the postulation of this paper that such an approach is problematic as it is unsuccessful. For starters, the approach is not all inclusive and leaves several loopholes unaddressed. It is such challenges that occasion a high level of recidivism and in extreme cases absolute oversight of the law. The greatest concern, in this paper’s perspective and indeed, in the perspective of any victimology scholar, ought to be the victim. The state needs to ask themselves the tough question of the concern of the victims. Are their interests addressed through the criminal justice system? Are the underlying conflicts resolved through the judicial processes? Through the custody of the actual perpetrator, is the public any safer from a similar occurrence? These questions beg more questions than answers. They leave the critical scholar questing for reforms in the criminal system. Indeed, it is arguable that it is such questions that inform the restorative justice system now advanced whereby the pursuit entails reconciling the victims with the offenders and the society at large. Indeed, such an approach addresses the underlying conflicts and, therefore, is sufficient. The same cannot be said of the traditional judicial system that informs the American criminal justice system.
Victimology in essence entails internal and external stakeholders. It embraces the restorative justice system whereby the state is interested in addressing the underlying conflict. In addressing a conflict, it is necessary that all parties to the conflict are brought on board. This requires the input of the stakeholders affected in the processes. For instance, in the case of crime, the victims, the offenders and the state inform the internal stakeholders. This is precisely because they are actively involved in the process. The victim is the recipient of the undesired criminal action while the offender is the perpetrator of the action. The state, as the facilitator of order in society, is inevitably involved for its role remains that of providing a conducive atmosphere for humanity. As internal stakeholders, the onus is on them to participate actively towards the resolution of a conflict.
On first instance, the offenders are the biggest contributors to the problem. They perpetrate the offence. It remains the function of the state through the justice system including the corrections department to ensure the offenders are foremost prosecuted and secondly convicted and serve their sentences. In service of their sentences, the state has the opportunity to rehabilitate the offenders and bring them on board as far as social organization and discipline is concerned. It is necessary that before they are reabsorbed into society, the perpetrators have reconciled their conscience to the ethical and moral affirmations and dictates. This is to say, in as far as reforms are concerned, the restoration process would only be effective once the offenders have acknowledged their mistakes and offered to reform. To this extent, the American criminal justice system performs with a degree of success. While it would be unrealistic to assess their performance as excellent, it is nonetheless above mediocrity.
On the other hand, the state and the victims to crime have not excelled as such. In fact, there is nothing much to write home in terms of counseling and aiding the victims of crime to come to terms with their misfortunes. Currently, through the Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crimes and the autonomous National Center for Victims of Crime, there has been effort towards assisting victims of crime pursue justice. However, that is the farthest the state has been able to assist the victims. No compensation systems have yet to be approved to ensure victims of crime access justice through compensation. In addition, the state is yet to moot ideas and programs whereby the victims get to reconcile with the offenders. In such a system, it shall be easy to restore the offenders to society as the parties would have applied extrajudicial mechanisms in reaching a settlement that resolves the underlying conflicts rather than merely addressing the disputes. In that manner, the victimization of both the victims and the offenders after the fact would be lowered.
According to the Bureau of Justice, between 2005 and 2010, about one third of the prisoners were rearrested within three years in the United States of America. In other words, this reflects a recidivist level of 33%. It is necessary to consider a non-custodial restorative approach for this category of offenders. In addition, according to the same bureau, some one million criminal activities were unreported over the same period. The reasons for not reporting range from lack of sufficient evidence to lack of confidence that the said offenders would be properly rehabilitated and restored back to society. Such statistics indicate the need for reforms of the criminal justice system. In fact, in the five years spanning from 2005, 84.1% of inmates released under the age of 24 years were rearrested within three years after release. This shows that the younger offenders do not have gainful ventures and consider return to crime the only option for survival. It is necessary that the state considers an alternative approach in line with the ideals of victimology canvassed in the paper.
The solution the paper prescribes seeks to incorporate both the victims and the offender and of course the general public as the external stakeholders. In that strain, it is necessary to create avenues for the victims of crime to meet the offenders. It is appropriate for the state to get to the bottom-line by addressing the conflict rather than the superficial approach of only tackling the disputes. In that vein, the criminal justice system needs to create avenues for the victims to air their grievance and perhaps prescribe their demands. The state ought to play a mere facilitative role for the resolution of the conflict between the victims and the offenders. In that approach, crime levels may reduce to a record low.
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