Parallel Justice for Victims of Crime
Sep 14, 2010
by Eric Assur
Not too many years ago Restorative Justice (RJ) was introduced, or artfully expounded on, by Howard Zehr. Now we have what appears to be a similarly unique view of the victim of crime topic through new and different lenses. The author, a seasoned and well credentialed victim advocate, and the National Center for Victims of Crime now offer an enlightening commentary and daunting challenge regarding the state of victim services. The book recommends a new way to do business, a paradigm shift to what is now labeled, Parallel Justice (PJ).
In coining the term the author correctly asserts that the victim, long used as a witness and then ignored, is still poorly served despite major strides in Victim Rights legislation, restitution collection programs and victim advocate offices attached to police departments and prosecutors. These relatively new enhancements in the criminal justice system still offer only partial assistance – but only when an offender is arrested and convicted. Only in a small percentage of the cases is anyone ever arrested or charged. Hence, the victim gets ignored.
Susan Herman offers a focused and balanced book of five chapters for a variety of readers. While not a textbook, it could be used as a 140 page reader for some social work and criminal justice classes. The book is written for “victims of crime, as well as victim advocates, criminal justice and social service practioners, policy makers, academics, government and community-based leaders, and anyone else who wants to understand how we might achieve justice for victims of crime.”
Herman offers ample data or information regarding the billions of dollars of restitution that is not collected. She succinctly updates the reader regarding the victim rights bills now in force in all fifty states. She explains how the current victim compensation funds are of limited utility and may only assist victims of violent crimes with specific hardships or will simply be inapplicable to victims of financial or identity fraud type crimes. Only after presenting the poor state of current service delivery is the challenge of PJ, a paradigm shift put forth.
The task of developing a new status quo seems daunting. Fortunately the author presents more than a ‘pie in the sky’ dream. The state of Vermont and specific communities in have already developed pilot programs and enacted legislation regarding parallel justice. A simple search engine scan for this topic offers readers more up to date information on seminal PJ programs. Redlands, California and North Carolina efforts are also noted at the end of this 2010 book.
Zehr is viewed as the father of restorative justice. It may well be that Susan Herman will be viewed as the parallel justice movement founder or architect. This book is worth adding to your library and sharing with other professionals, legislators and interest groups.
For more information on Parallel Justice see www.paralleljustice.org.