Each year, crime claims more than forty million victims in the United States. This is a really staggering statistic. One in five Americans, almost, are victims of some sort of crime every year in this country. For these Americans, crime is more than just a statistic; it is a sobering and often devastating personal experience, inflicting physical and mental disability, property loss or damage, financial hardship, and severe and sometimes permanent disruption to personal lives. Adding to this trauma of being a crime victim is a criminal justice system which pays astonishingly little attention to the needs and the concerns of victims of crime. Ironically, despite these statistics and facts, less than one percent of the billions of dollars which California spends on criminal justice goes towards direct assistance to crime victims. Recently, our Legislature has become more aware of the devastating impact of crime upon the individual, as well as the relative neglect with which the criminal justice system treats both victims and witnesses of crimes. It has further come to realize, as have the courts and law enforcement, that without the active assistance of victims and witnesses, efforts to identify, prosecute, and punish criminals would have little chance of success. As a result, recent years have seen the Legislature begin to enact reforms to provide financial assistance, grant basic rights .and protections, and make comprehensive services available to victims and witnesses of crime. To a large extent, California has been a leader in victim oriented reform, having been the first state in the nation to adopt a program for compensating victims for the losses they suffer as a result of violent crime. In addition, California has made considerable progress in the area of funding and institutionalizing local programs which provide a wide range of services, both to victims and to witnesses.
Despite this progress, however, there is still much room for improvement in the way the criminal justice system treats and provides for victims and witnesses. There is a need for developing realistic approaches to providing for increased victim notification and input in the justice process. Ways of improving delivery of financial assistance and other services to victims and witnesses are also needed. Increasing awareness and understanding of victim witness needs in the courts, police departments, and prosecutor offices arc other areas or concern. rinnlly, we still need to identify and address the limitations or the victim reforms which have already been enacted. Through this hearing this morning, the Subcommittee hopes to gain a better understanding and direction on these issues and to develop a foundation for possible future legislation dealing with victim and witness reform.
Asembly Subcommittee on Criminal Justice Resources, "Interim Hearing on Victim & Witness Rights in Criminal Proceedings" (1981). California Assembly. 96.