Victim Impact Statements: Who really benefits?

C. James, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor California State University, Fresno, Department of Criminology, chadleyj@csufresno.edu

The old adage of victims being the forgotten actors in the criminal justice system (CJS) seems to no longer apply. Today, victims’ rights ensure the participation of victims at various stages of the criminal justice process. The most notable form of participation is the creation and delivery of a victim impact statement at the sentencing phase of a criminal trial. However, the use of victim impact statements has ignited a debate to who actually benefits from these statements: the victim? Or the CJS? Research has shown that the emotionally charged statements lead to more punitive sentencing decisions, and have shown little in the way of victim satisfaction, and recovery from the trauma after their experience in the CJS. Despite evidence that suggest that victim impact statements do not accomplish what they set out to achieve, a rethinking of there use is needed. This paper analyzes the process of creating and delivering victim impact statements, and argues that it is the CJS that benefits from its use. Given that the inclusion of these statements is here to stay, potential solutions to the victim benefiting when making these statements are also presented. Doing this is argued to better prepare and manage the victim during the process and hopefully elicit the victimological yield intended for these statements.

 

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