New Survey Reports Views of California’s Crime Victims, With Surprising Results, Stirring ControversyJune 7th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon
ONE IN FIVE CALIFORNIANS
According to a new survey released on Thursday, 1 in 5 Californians has been a victim of a crime in the past five years. Surprisingly, of those crime victims surveyed, the majority did not favor tougher laws, but rather wanted wanted prisons that were more rehabilitative and, in certain instances, favored treatment programs for certain kinds of crimes, rather than incarceration.
The survey, which was commissioned by Californians for Safety and Justice, a nonprofit that advocates for criminal justice reform, reported among its findings that:
– Two-thirds of crime victims reported negative emotional affects in the aftermath, namely “anxiety, stress, and difficulty with sleeping, relationships or work,” often lasting six months or more
– Victims surveyed preferred investments in mental health and drug treatments by a three-to-one margin over incarceration.
-- Three in four victims believed that prisons either make inmates better at committing crimes or have no impact at all. Only a small minority believes that prisons rehabilitate people.
– When asked about California’s rates of incarceration, 36 percent of the victims surveyed said that we send “too many” people to prison, 33 percent said, “too few.”
-- The victims wanted a focus on supervised probation and rehabilitation by a two-to-one margin over prisons and jails (50 percent to 23 percent)
– 65 percent of the victims favored realignment, Gov. Jerry Brown’s AB109 program of sending low-level felons to county jail instead of state prison, and 24 percent opposed realignment.
A SNAPSHOT OF CRIME VICTIMS
“These findings will surprise people,” said David Binder, head of David Binder Research. His firm conducted the study in April 2013 with 2,600 Californians that matched the state’s demographics and geographies according to the 2010 Census.
According to Binder, the full survey was conducted with the 500 respondents who identified as crime victims. “We found that a small portion of the population–mostly young men of color—experiences the lion’s share of crime, whereas a larger majority experience none at all.”
“This report turns on its head the notion that victims only care about tough-on-crime sentences,” said Lenore Anderson, Director of Californians for Safety and Justice. Anderson said that crime victims want leaders to be “smart on crime. They believe we send too many people to prison, and they want more investment in education, mental health and drug treatment, supervised probation, and rehabilitation. In that way, their views very much align with overall public opinion, despite victims’ unique and often tragic experiences with crime.”
WHO HAS THE RIGHT TO SPEAK FOR VICTIMS & SURVIVORS?
Indeed, the survey’s results fly in the face of the points of view expressed by traditional crime victims advocacy organizations like Crime Victims United of California that, for the last 30 years, have been among the state’s most powerful lobbying forces. By aligning themselves politically and fiscally with the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., the union that represents the state’s prison guards, and with the state’s district attorneys associations, these victims rights (VR) groups were able to push for tough-on-crime legislation that, in turn, ushered an interweave of sentencing statutes that has made California’s prison system the second largest in the nation (behind Texas).
These traditional victims groups, however, represent a specific demographic as they are made up largely of white women and some white men.
When the survey came out, Harriet Salarno, director Crime Victims United of California declared herself “outraged” by the report, which she characterized not “a true representation of how victims feel.”
Yet, the new survey indicates—and other research supports—that the majority of crime victims tend to be young African American or Latino males, most of whom reported that they had friends and family who had also been victimized, and the majority of whom do not appear, in general, to share the opinons of Salarno’s group and the rest of the long-established and influential victims of crime movement.
A DIFFERENT DIALOGUE WITH VICTIMS
In addition to measuring attitudes toward crime and punishment, the survey—which bills itself as the first ever survey of California crime victims—also looks at the unmet needs of this crime victims and survivors demographic, and and asks the respondents about their experiences with victim services, and about whether they reported the crime to law enforcement.
In addition, Californians for Safety and Justice has a line-up of crime victims and survivors who work with the organization, one of whom, the widow of a police officer, spoke affectingly to reporters during Thursday morning’s phone-in press conference. [See videos above and below.]
The survey—and the testimonies—are an interesting way of rebooting a conversation about state policy that, heretofore, has been dominated by one very narrow definition of victims.
Let us hope the conversation continues.