There are various programs designed for victims of crimes. Many victims and witnesses of crime have their first contact with the criminal justice system as a result of being victimized. Many countries have developed victim compensation programs to reduce the impact that violent crime has upon the lives of victims. The society must have estimates of the costs of victimization as measured by loss of life, physical injuries, economic losses, and mental health costs. By having estimates of the amount of past economic losses, such as medical expenses, uncovered stolen property, mental health costs, lower productivity, and work absenteeism, policy makers and administrators are in a better position to develop critically needed victim/witness assistance and victim compensation programs (Gitterman, 2011).
The History of the Victim Compensation Program
The first official study of victimology was started by Mendelsohn in 1940s. He is considered to be one of those theorists whose main object of the investigation was the victim. In response to the growing increase of violence in the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan announced in 1981 that he would create a Task Force on the Victims of Crime. The President signed an executive order on April 23, 1982, promising to create programs that could help to support crime victims. Moreover, mental health professionals increased awareness of the psychological and emotional impact of crime on victims and indirect crime victims such as family, friends, and relatives of the victim. As a result of these efforts, both criminal justice and mental health professionals began observing and responding to the needs of crime victims (Huemer, 2012). Victims’ Assistance was mandated under the Victims’ of Crime Act of 1984 that created the Crime Victims Fund, which is a major funding source for victim services throughout the United States.
The research asserts that a victim compensation program was suggested by the President Commission in 1967 (Kaptein & Malsch, 2004). It was an establishment of methods for compensating crime victims for their losses. Victim compensation was first introduced in Great Britain by Margery Fry in 1957. Although that early attempt failed, victim compensation quickly became a major issue all over the world. New Zealand passed the first compensation legislation in 1963, closely followed by England in 1964. In the United States, California established victim compensation in 1965, New York in 1966, Hawaii in 1967, and Massachusetts in 1968. The federal government enacted legislation in 1984 that outlined compensation in instances in which federal crimes were committed. The statute also provided for monetary assistance to states with compensation programs. By 1989, 45 states had enacted compensation statutes. Other countries, such as Australia and Finland, also have established victim compensation programs. While each program may differ in its particulars, the basic premise of assisting crime victims remains the same.
The Goals and Objectives of the Victim Compensation Programs
Evaluating victim compensation programs depends initially on identifying intentions and goals of the policymakers responsible for such plans. From these objectives, one might assess the extent to which the programs have been successfully implemented and have had the desired impact. Chan (2008) noted that several rationales prompted creation of victim compensation programs. These justifications suggest the extent to which a government should take responsibility for crime victimization. They also signify the particular objectives being sought by adopting compensation plans. Among these objectives, most existing compensation programs emphasize the following:
- This goal seeks to restore crime victims to a status similar to that existing before the victimization. A program’s major resource for achieving this objective consists of adequately compensating victims for their losses due to crime. However, many compensation programs do not reimburse for property losses, the payments are limited to medical expenses and lost earnings.
- Crime prevention. This objective seeks to control crime. Policymakers indicate that victim compensation will renew the public’s faith in law enforcement by indicating a concern for crime victims. Having compensation programs, especially reimbursing actual victims, will improve the public’s attitude toward the criminal process and its officials.
- Social stability. Victim compensation programs serve to reduce public instability and to improve public attitudes toward criminal justice and government.
Some observers assume that victim compensation programs increase victim participation in the criminal justice system. Hall (2010) noted that victim compensation programs influenced conviction rates. Moreover, victim compensation positively affects other components of the criminal justice system. The evidence from the studies concludes that victim compensation programs’ goals are to support victims and witnesses financially and mentally. Many experts, however, suggest that victim compensation programs have had little impact on the attitudes and views of the public toward the criminal justice system. This suggests that the future of compensation must not rely on arguments that it benefits the criminal justice system or society. Rather, an appeal to the social welfare and social contract arguments hold much more promise.
Problems and Concerns with Compensation
Besides the potential impact of compensation on the criminal justice system, it is possible to evaluate these operations in terms of the number of victims served and the extent of services provided. Victim compensation programs are not adequately compensating victims. Moreover, many victims do not know about these programs and therefore fail to take advantage of the following funds. The recent increase in federal participation and funding of victim compensation suggests that this scheme could well become the primary source of monetary aid to crime victims in the foreseeable future (Doerner & Lab, 2011). Victim compensation programs are supposed to be well-defined programs constituting a clear public policy toward the victim. However, as most public programs, these programs are not politically neutral. As a result, victim compensation programs have not been designed for all victims and commitment to those eligible varies considerably.
Despite the programs’ limitations and the political allocation of the resources required to run them, victim compensation plans should be analyzed to assess the extent to which the policy is being realized. Authorities should, therefore, offer policy evaluation of compensation, emphasizing its effect on crime victims and on criminal justice and the government generally. It is important for decision-making politics, which produced such programs to evaluate how the plans have been administered, how successfully the objectives have been met, and what influences have helped make it so. Public attitudes and relationships with government and the criminal justice system also should be examined. Victim compensation should not be treated narrowly since it has broad implications as a public policy for public opinion and participation, law enforcement, and government.
The research asserts that the criminal justice system in the United States is offender-oriented, focusing on apprehension, prosecution, and punishment of wrongdoers. While emphasizing the rehabilitation of offenders, the system has done little to help victims recover from the financial and emotional problems that they suffer from. Unfortunately, most criminal defendants have no money to pay victim compensation for damage or injuries. Therefore, civil lawsuits lack relevance. Many defendants are not available to provide adequate compensation to a victim. When restitution by the offender is inadequate, compensation by a third party, for example, an insurance company, could be the only alternative. However, many victims are poor and therefore do not have insurance covering medical expenses or property losses. The government is another sort of third party. Victim compensation programs rest on the premise that the government should counter-balance losses suffered by victims of criminal acts (Gitterman, 2011). Many observers consider that many problems and considerations relating to victim compensation programs are related to the issue of how the society reacts on victims. Nowadays, many groups should be ready to call for helping victims.
The Improvement of the Program
Many experts consider that victim compensation programs are not perfect and some of them do not work perfectly well. Therefore, there is a need to find out new ways to implement new initiatives and perspectives. Admittedly, the Crime Victims Fund is a major source of revenue for state compensation programs. Victim programs are subsidized by criminal fines, penalty fees, and special assessments collected by federal courts, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the Bureau of Prisons. Every state has its own crime victim compensation program. Actually, victim compensation funds provide such services as crisis intervention, emergency shelter, emergency transportation, counseling, and criminal justice advocacy among others.
Gitterman (2011) argued that crime is an inevitable feature of social life and it should be considered in a secular, technological society as a social risk and a hazard of modern life, not very different from other risks to which people are daily exposed. The way the society responds to other social risks to minimize their occurrence and their effects should guide the actions against crime. Crime is as much a fact of life as are natural disasters, traffic accidents, disease, and death.
However, while other social risks are covered in the welfare state by some form of insurance or another, the risk of becoming a victim of crime is not adequately covered. Victim compensation schemes have done little to remedy or to improve this situation. Insufficient funding, inadequate information, and stringent eligibility requirements have meant that the overwhelming majority of victims are excluded from the realm of compensation. Huemer (2012) observes that since the funds allocated to these programs are severely limited, more publicity and more applications can only result in lower awards and a higher rate of rejection. As to the restitution by the offender, it remains, for obvious reasons, a seldom used and largely ineffective means of redress.
Victims’ Needs and Victims’ Services
The question of how crime victims are currently treated and how they should be treated by criminal justice personnel is an administrative issue. It has to do with the attitudes, policies, practices of the system, and the interactions between those working in it and their clientele. All users of the systems should be treated with courtesy, understanding, sensitivity, compassion, as well as respect for their dignity. This should be the case regardless of their roles or characteristics, whether they are complaints or suspects, victims or offenders, young or old, male or female, rich or poor, white or black. Improving the general attitudes of those in the system to its users is both essential and beneficial. The training of criminal justice personnel should be designed to sensitize them to the needs of their clients. Gitterman (2011) noted that though victim compensation programs served to satisfy moral and financial demands of the victims of crime, they could not protect all the victims morally. Thus, the victim who within his or her family, neighborhood, or small communities, is treated as a person and who in such setting feels and acts as an individual is converted into a “client” or a “recipient of services”. He or she has to suffer the dehumanization of being transformed from a person to a number. The psychological support is needed for such people in order to deal with humiliation and confusion.
Furthermore, in providing the care, help, and support victims need, caution has to be exercised to avoid causing greater harm to the victim. There might be a link between the interventionist strategies and techniques used to deal with victims and the growing pains of victimization. Thus, increasing attention and publicity should be given to crime victims. The history of victim services is one of unfulfilled promises and unmet expectations. There is ample empirical evidence of the inadequacy of the services and frustrations they ensure. Many victims complain about drawbacks of victim compensation programs such as delays, poor information, inconveniences, inability to participate, denial of awards in many cases, restrictive eligibility requirements, and others. In order to improve this situation, the authorities should improve the whole system of victim compensation programs considering those problematic issues that are common in their settings.
In conclusion, it should be noted that victim compensation programs have been designed to reduce the impact that violent crime has on the lives of victims. The society must have estimates of the costs of victimization as measured by loss of life, physical injuries, economic losses, and mental health costs. By having estimates of the amount of past economic losses, such as medical expenses, uncovered stolen property, mental health costs, lower productivity, and work absenteeism, policy makers and administrators are in a better position to develop critically needed victim/witness assistance and victim compensation programs (Gitterman, 2011). Unfortunately, there is ample empirical evidence of the inadequacy of the services and frustrations that follow.
Moreover, the research has shown that there are instances of delays, poor information, inconveniences, and inability to participate in many cases, which points out the importance of the programs’ improvement. Improving general attitudes of those in the system to its users is both essential and beneficial.