THE LAST COMMISSION
In July 2011, the Governor entered Executive Order No. 11-06 creating a Governor’s Commission on Public Safety. The Commission was composed of seven members and issued a report in December 2011. This Commission had no victim representation and no “boots on the ground” law enforcement representation. It was composed of elected officials, a former elected official, and a public member. To be fair, some of these elected officials had significant law enforcement experience. The Governor’s Order presumed that sentencing reform to keep offenders from going to prison was necessary. The Order stated, “Oregon faces the untenable choice of having to fund its prisons or educate our children” as if Oregon cannot do both. The ending report of the Commission, not surprisingly, recommended sentencing reform, guiding principles, and a continuation of the Commission.
VICTIM REPRESENTATION ON THE NEW COMMISSION A MUST
“Every victim, every crime, every right, every time.” This is the slogan on the front of the Attorney General’s Victims’ Right Guide. It embodies the advances in Oregon victims’ rights over the last 25 years. Today, crime victims in Oregon have rights set out in our Constitution. Two examples: victims have the right to a meaningful role in the criminal or juvenile justice process, to be treated with dignity and respect, to fair and impartial treatment, and to reasonable protection from the offender. They also have the right to express their views at sentencing, in person, or in writing.
Think about it – why do we have a criminal justice system? The immediate thought is that there are criminals out there that need to be brought to justice in order to have a lawful society. What this really means is that there are people out there that have been personally victimized or their property stolen or damaged by someone. At the most basic level, we have a criminal justice system because there are, unfortunately, lots of crime victims. If there were no crime victims, most of the criminal justice system could be eliminated. In essence, crime victims are or should be at the center of the criminal justice system. Twenty-five years of advancements in crime victims’ rights, mostly passed by the voters of Oregon, have moved victims closer to the center of the criminal justice system.
So, if I am right and crime victims are the principle reason for the criminal justice system, or at the very least, an important part of it, then shouldn’t crime victims have representation on a new Commission that is charged with making sweeping recommendations in the criminal justice system? My answer is a resounding, YES.
Fortunately, in Oregon, there are crime victims’ organizations that have been active in creating and protecting victims’ rights for many years. I am confident that they will help select a strong victims’ rights advocate as a member of the new Commission, if only they are asked to do so by the Governor. It would be a step backwards in the struggle for victims’ rights if the Governor does not recognize them and their importance by giving them a front row seat at the new Commission’s table.
One last point: as a retired long-time district attorney, I know that district attorneys around the state work hard to enforce victims’ rights and have created programs to do so. But I also know that district attorneys actually are charged by law with representing the State of Oregon. Once in a while, the district attorney’s position is different than the victim’s position. When it comes to a new Commission making recommendations on criminal justice policy changes, the district attorneys are not adequate victims’ voices. Victims need their own voice on the Commission.