The criminal justice system is the one branch of government that comes under scathing attack from all political quarters. Conservative crime con- trol proponents, treatment-oriented liberals, civil libertarians, civil rights activists, feminists, and vic- tim advocates—all find fault with its priorities and procedures. Over the past few decades, even some officials who run its agencies and shape its daily operations have joined the chorus of critics calling for change. However, they sharply disagree over how to reform the system.

The consensus among the experts who focus on victim issues is that the criminal justice system does not measure up to expectations. It fails to deliver what it promises. It does not meet the needs and wants of victims as its clients or consumers of its ser- vices. Serious problems persist, and the indictments of the system voiced over the years appear in Box 6.1. Even though the crime problem has subsided, and the shortcomings of other social institutions attract more attention, occasional criticisms of the way the system treats victims persist (see Box 6.1).

What Would Be Ideal?

Suppose a person is robbed and injured. What could and should the system do to dispense justice in this case?

Law enforcement agencies are at the intake end of the legal system and are the criminal justice pro- fessionals that victims initially encounter. Ideally, police officers could rush to help the person in dis- tress and provide whatever physical and psycholog- ical first aid might be needed. Then they should help the victim to file a complaint. Hopefully, they would catch the culprit and properly collect evidence of guilt that will stand up in court.

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They could recover any stolen goods taken by the robber and speedily return these items to the right- ful owner.

The prosecutor could make sure the defendant is indicted and then press for a swift trial. In the meantime, the injured party, who is serving as a key witness for the government, should be pro- tected from intimidation and reprisals. After convic- tion, the victim’s views about a fair resolution of this case could be fully aired. The judge could hand down a sentence that would balance the vic- tim’s wishes with the community’s desires and the robber’s needs. Correctional authorities could see to it that the probationer, prisoner, or parolee doesn’t harass or attack the person whose complaint set the machinery of criminal justice into motion. If the convict was ordered by the judge to reimburse the individual he harmed for losses and expenses, then correctional authorities could ensure that these restitution payments or services are delivered in a timely fashion, as promised.

But this “best-case scenario” frequently does not materialize. Instead of enjoying the cooperation of officials and supportive services from agencies as the system handles “their” cases, victims might find themselves sorely disappointed or even locked into conflicts with the police, prosecutors, judges, wardens, and parole boards.

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