National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (April 6 to 12, 2014) is a time-honored observance during which our nation joins together to honor crime victims and survivors, and considers the often devastating impact of crime on victims and communities in America.  

In proclaiming the first “Victims’ Rights Week” in 1981, President Ronald Reagan said:

“For too long, the victims of crime have been the forgotten persons of our criminal justice system.  Rarely do we give victims the help they need or the attention they deserve.  Yet the protection of our citizens – to guard them from becoming victims – is the primary purpose of our penal laws.  Thus, each new victim personally represents an instance in which our system has failed to prevent crime.  Lack of concern for victims compounds that failure.”

There have been significant improvements in efforts to help crime victims since President Reagan planted the “roots” of victims’ rights and services 33 years ago.  

Today, there are over 32,000 laws that define and protect victims’ rights, and over 10,000 organizations across America that serve victims of all types of crime.  

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Yet there remain countless crime survivors whose needs are not met and whose legal rights are not consistently observed. 

At Right on Crime, we strongly believe that crime victims and those who serve them are important partners in any efforts to improve our nation’s systems of justice – federal, criminal, juvenile, tribal and civil justice – and the fair treatment of victims of crime.

An excellent example of these partnerships is the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) that is reforming criminal and juvenile justice policies and practices in many states.  

Justice reinvestment is a strategy to improve individual and public safety, hold offenders accountable, reduce corrections and related criminal justice spending, and reinvest savings in strategies that can reduce crime.  

It is a data-driven approach that ensures that policymaking is based on a comprehensive analysis of criminal justice data and the latest research about what works to reduce crime, and is tailored to the distinct public safety needs of the jurisdiction. 

Crime victims and victim advocates are key stakeholders in all JRI activities, with proactive outreach that seeks their guidance to identify victims’ most salient needs, as well as gaps in services that help victims in the aftermath of crime.  

In many states, JRI savings have been reinvested to fill such gaps, including funding for statewide automated victim information and notification systems; more effective restitution management systems that hold offenders financially accountable for their actions and help victims recover some of the pecuniary losses they endure as a result of crime; and increased staffing for victim assistance agencies.

When crime victims and their advocates join together with state leaders and justice officials to improve criminal and juvenile justice processes, we all win.  

When they share the power of their personal stories that describe the impact of crime on their lives and how our response to victims can be improved, we all recognize the need to make reducing crime and preventing further victimization a national priority.

During 2014 National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, let us re-commit our collective energies to ensure that victims are no longer the “forgotten persons” in America’s justice systems, and that crime survivors and those who serve them are recognized as critical partners in our efforts to promote safety and justice for all.

Anne Seymour has been a national crime victim advocate for over 30 years, and works nationwide to engage victims and advocates in justice reinvestment initiatives.

Pat Nolan is the Director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the American Conservative Union Foundation.