Friday, June 26, 2009

New Bern, Victim Services, Getting Smarter on Crime

This morning (Friday) we awake in New Bern. Yesterday (Thursday) we walked 18 miles along some of the straightest, flattest country roads you'll ever see, cherishing any tiny bit of shade we could find along the way from Cove City into NC's original capital city. This morning we hope to meet with the Craven County DA and then drive to Kinston to pick up where we left off up there. We'll only walk a few miles today and use the rest of the day for planning the weekend and SOfAR Lobby Day and resting up for the home stretch.

Upon arrival in New Bern yesterday afternoon, we cooled off with cold treats at the Trent River Coffee Company, talked with reporters there and then sought 5 minutes with District Attorney Scott Thomas, who was recently appointed by Gov. Beverly Perdue to the Governor's Crime Commission.

Mr. Thomas was unavailable but his administrative assistant, Ms. Creel, who also provides and coordinates victim assistance in the DA's office, talked with us briefly. We were very pleased to see on her shelf What to Do When the Police Leave (Bill Jenkins), a book for victim family members that offers guidance for the first few days after a traumatic loss. We talked further with Ms. Creel about the issues faced by victim family members and I left thinking that she must be quite a gift to persons in her district who have experienced the trauma of sudden, violent loss.

Unfortunately, our research indicates that victim services are very uneven from county to county with some counties and prosecutorial districts providing much more than others. Many victim family members say that they have only received support when they have been useful to the prosecution.

Victim family members report varying experiences with feeling like their voices are heard in the judicial process. For example, in my home Sampson County, a victim family member who was supporting the prosecution's pursuit of the death penalty in a trial last fall told me that she would "be satisfied with life without parole." When I asked her if the DAs knew that information, she stated, "They don't care what we think about that." In this case, the family was split by the prosecution's pursuit of a death sentence even while family members on both sides of the courtroom voiced clearly to me that they would be satisfied with life without parole.

What a waste of time, talent and money! What a cruelty to this family, heaping more trauma and strain on top of the horrible aftermath of the violence that had taken three family members from them! Where was the consideration of their voices and their needs?

But things seemed better than that in Craven County. Our hope is that Ms. Creel is as compassionate and available to victim family members as she seemed. What a gift!

Our hope is also that Scott Thomas and all district attorneys will do their jobs effectively, justly and with compassion and that they would be protected physically, emotionally and in every way. It must be a tough job and it is an important one. What these persons are exposed to must take a toll.

Finally, we hope that Scott Thomas and the Governor's Crime Commission as well as Secretary of Corrections Al Keller and his office, will help us become smarter on crime and move us away from the tired and too often empty rhetoric of 'tough on crime' that has prevailed for too long.

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