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Meeting Victims' Needs: Role of the Juvenile Court and Justice System

Victims' Views

Regardless of whether victim participants had experienced violent or property crimes, they agreed on what victims need from the juvenile court and justice system. Participants were asked to describe the ideal continuum of victim services throughout the juvenile justice process. Their responses, provided below, identified victims' needs as well as what can and should be done to meet such needs.

Victims want law enforcement to

Treat victims with respect.

Provide support and assistance.

Provide some form of victim services.

Not blame the victim for the crime.

Provide information to victims.

Provide information that victims' insurance companies need for reimbursement of losses.

Promptly return property.

Offer consistency in victim services.

Receive death notification training to increase sensitivity.

Notify victims about options of community-based diversion.

Seek training from victims who want to help improve the system.

Participate in cross-training with other professionals in the juvenile justice system.

Victims want the prosecution to

Go beyond "code." Understand the human element of the case.

Reduce charges against the offender only with proper notification of, explanation to, and input from victims.

Provide information to the victims.

Monitor and support enforcement of sanctions and conditions of the sanctions.

Pay more attention to the juvenile offender's prior record.

In serious cases, talk to the victim before the hearing.

Talk to the victim before a plea agreement.

After adjudication, talk to the victim. Explain reasons for actions. Listen to the victims' concerns.

Provide a brochure that explains juvenile justice system terminology.

Provide referrals for victim assistance.

Provide victim services such as counseling, separate waiting areas, babysitting for witnesses.

Always ask the prosecutor to ask the court for restitution.

Attend sensitivity training.

Victims want judges to

Acknowledge victims. Saying "I'm sorry" is okay.

Have full knowledge of the case—both victim and offender perspectives.

Seek cross-agency collaboration.

Ask whether the victim is present before the hearing starts.

Make quicker dispositions.

Monitor and enforce dispositions.

Ensure that the reoffender is seen by the same judge on each court appearance by using an alphabetized case management system or some other method.

Promote more parental accountability and involvement.

Require the probation office to promptly inform the court of violations of court orders.

Issue clear restitution orders with precise dollar amounts and payment schedules.

Order restitution if the victim wants it, and make it payable to whom the victim chooses—either to the victim or to a worthy group identified by the victim.

Be leaders in applying balanced and restorative justice principles.

Pay attention to each case. Don't play cards in court.

Explain various aspects of the court process.

Meet victims' needs; treat them with sensitivity and respect.

Understand that the primary source of juvenile court problems is how victims are treated by court personnel and processes rather than what judges perceive to be the victims' lack of education.

Victims want probation to

Work hand in hand with victims.

Provide all information necessary to the judge to make informed decisions.

Let victims know about compliance and violations.

Collect and disburse restitution.

Provide offenders with youth training, rehabilitation, counseling, and treatment.

Hold offenders accountable for their actions by enforcing court orders.

Collect information from victims about the impact of the crime.

Provide protection for the community and the victims by keeping dangerous juveniles off the streets.

Victims want juvenile corrections to

Provide status or progress reports.

Notify the victim about the offender's release.

Provide victim awareness programming for offenders.

Provide opportunities for victim restitution (including restitution from inmate trust accounts).

Continue to pursue collection of restitution for victims.

Victims want juvenile parole/aftercare to

Notify victims of relevant hearings.

Accept victim impact statements.

Provide victims with emergency transportation to hearings.

Provide victims with supportive accompaniment at hearings.

Provide protective measures to victims as special conditions of parole/aftercare.

Share information about victims and offenders with juvenile justice agencies.

Victims want the overall system to

Validate victims' personal experiences.

Share case information.

Provide victim advocates or "victim liaisons" at every point in the system.

Offer a centralized system for monitoring, collecting, and disbursing restitution.

Encourage more dialogue between the system and victims; incorporate victim participation in the system.

Judges' Views

Judges in each focus group were asked to consider what they viewed as the most important needs of crime victims. As leaders in the juvenile court, judges have the power to prioritize services and modify processes to impact victim satisfaction. Judges' beliefs about what victims want and need, and the role and responsibility of the court in meeting these needs, are of great importance.

In general, judges in all focus groups ranked several key victims' needs as high. The need for information was rankedhigh by each group, including notification about hearings and court processes, restitution, and safety issues. Other victims' needs were less consistently mentioned by judges, such as being treated with dignity and respect and being allowed maximum input into court proceedings. In contrast, these latter needs had been a primary focus of discussion in victims' groups.

Finally, some judges expressed the belief that victims have motivations in addition to those listed by participating crime victims, such as a need for vengeance, a need to use the court process for "therapy or catharsis," a need for reconciliation, and a need to control, rather than simply to have input into, the court's dispositional process. At times, the judges' perception of victims' needs suggested a paternalistic, if not pejorative, view of juvenile crime victims (Viano, E., 1996).

A theme addressed extensively in two judges' groups was the lack of education given to victims about the court process. This problem, which was said to lead victims to unrealistic expectations about the court process, appeared to be viewed as the dominant problem in some groups. Participating victims agreed that much about the court process was a mystery to them. In fact, in two groups, victims expressed appreciation to participating judges for explaining various aspects of the court process. However, victims were more likely to conclude that the failure of the court to meet their needs and treat victims with sensitivity and respect, rather than victims' perceived lack of education, were the primary sources of juvenile court problems.

Perhaps because it has been a visible component of juvenile court dispositions for almost 20 years and is the most tangible response to crime victims, the need for restitution was discussed most often in the judges' groups. Generally, judges acknowledged court responsibility for ensuring restitution to victims, although they often faulted probation or other court staff for failing to ensure restitution collection.

Judges offered the following solutions on how juvenile courts could best meet victims' needs:

Continue dialogue with victims and their advocates in forums similar to the focus groups in this project.

Conduct a complete court and system audit of victim notification processes to determine where breakdowns occur and where opportunities for victim verbal and written input exist.

Institute ongoing meetings among restorative justice practitioners, judges, and court administration personnel to further understand and strengthen working relationships.

Train judges to ensure active monitoring of juvenile courts and the juvenile justice system, focusing on victims' interests and needs, use of victim impact statements, improving the approach to restitution, and case flow management.

Hold presentations about restorative justice at judicial conferences.

Demonstrate judicial leadership in engaging the community as an active partner in affecting juvenile court purposes, juvenile justice system achievements, and restorative justice practices.

Provide judicial support and advocacy for expanding public and private funding of practices that assist victims and help meet victims' needs.

Provide judicial leadership to enable funding of paid public service work programs for juveniles who owe restitution.

Provide judicial leadership to encourage use of mediation and additional alternative dispute resolution approaches to contest case hearings.

Expand court management practices that reduce victims' time in court waiting rooms, promote case disposition promptness, and provide management information system data that judges and court managers can use to discern causes for delays in court processing.

A final overarching recommendation was for judges to exercise leadership with policymakers and the local community on behalf of crime victims. Specifically, judges should work to ensure that restorative justice objectives are added to purpose clauses of juvenile court codes. At a more concrete level, judges can promote restorative justice principles by using their ability to directly change court administrative standards (Edwards, L., 1993; Rubin, T., 1988, 1997).

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Victims, Judges, and Juvenile Court Reform
Through Restorative Justice
October 2000
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