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Crime Victims United of California: A powerful voice in state politics

Op-Ed

The victims group is aligned with the prison guards union.

June 03, 2011|By Joshua Page

By claiming pride of place as "the voice of victims," though, the group marginalizes alternative victims' voices. Some victims' rights groups in the state maintain that vengeful, ultra-tough penal policies do not help victims of crime but simply create more suffering and resentment. These groups say that challenging offenders to take responsibility for the harm their crimes cause through restorative justice practices and helping prisoners develop the tools necessary to live crime-free lives help prevent future victims. These alternative voices reject zero-sum logic; they do not reflexively pit offenders against victims — or, in Nina Salarno Ashford's words, the "bad people" against the "good citizens."

As lawmakers debate how to reduce prison overcrowding, Crime Victims United will surely keep making its voice heard in the Capitol and in the media. Its leaders will probably argue that the state should build more prisons and absolutely avoid shortening prison terms. If policymakers continue to follow the voices of expressly punitive victims rights advocates and ignore the opinions of those who promote alternative, less punitive conceptions of justice, California will not shrink its $9-billion prison system or alleviate its correctional crisis. The status quo will prevail. Let's hope this harrowing prediction doesn't come true.

Joshua Page is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota. He's the author of "The Toughest Beat: Punishment, Politics, and the Prison Officers Union in California."

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