An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Norman Early, Esq.
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from Norman Early, Esq.
Interviewee:Norman Early, Esq.;
Denver, CO
Date of Interview:August 19, 2002
Location:Nashville, TN

Norman Early, Esq.




Norman Early is an author and media commentator who formerly served as the District Attorney for Denver, Colorado.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

Norm Early joined in the Denver District Attorney's Office in 1973 as a Chief Deputy District Attorney. After beginning his job, he observed that on any given day there would be 50 to 75 people in the court room, and only 20 cases on the docket. Early came to realize that a majority of those people were victims or witnesses who had been subpoenaed to court, and that many of the cases in which they were involved would not be tried on that day. There was no system in place to keep victims informed of the status of their cases, and many were repeatedly coming to court and not being heard. It became apparent to Early that something needed to change. In response, he developed a system to notify victims and witnesses and keep them updated about the status of their cases.


Interview Summary

Context of the Era

Early describes the early victims' rights movement as an "outgrowth of the women's movement." He recounts experiences of women being reduced to tears on the witness stand in a male-dominated system and how those women, as a result of their experiences, began advocating for change. At first those changes were modest, such as notification procedures and victim waiting rooms, and were "semi-embraced" by prosecutors. However, prosecutors were extremely hesitant to embrace the concept of rights for victims of crime. Upon reflecting about the "early days," Early realizes that in all probability this was because prosecutors, and the justice system as a whole, just did not know how to "handle" victims of violent crime. When such cases surfaced, prosecutors wanted to drop charges rather than to try to understand the dynamics of violent crime and victimization. Early recounts what many prosecutors thought:

"One case less on my case load rather than understanding the cycle of violence and understanding that you should have 'no drop' policies. And understanding that once a case comes into the system, you cannot legitimize the conduct of the batterer by dismissing the case and allowing the batterer to have the criminal justice system sanction their actions."

Successful Strategies

Early credits two strategies for contributing to early successes. First, he discusses the importance of understanding the power of the position of the District Attorney, and not to be threatened by that power. He stresses the importance of the District Attorney being at all of the meetings, and the importance of working with the District Attorney as a partner to set meetings far in advance so nothing "more important could come up." Secondly, always let collaborators in the process know that ".....you are not setting all the rules.....that you're there to aid the process and you are a participant." Early reflected on how sometimes his input was implemented and other times not, but his "teamwork approach" assured that his input was always respected.

Failures

Early attributes the most pronounced failure in the victim assistance field as the inability to attract people who have not been victimized. He believes that this is because the public views the defendant as the "underdog" in the criminal justice system, and does not want to identify with the victim.

"This movement is one that everyone should be able to identify with. Everyone is one or two people away from victimization in this country. And most people know someone who has been victimized."

Greatest Accomplishment

Early believes the field's greatest accomplishment is the Federal government's involvement in assisting victims of crime. In his own words, "...getting a Federal agency that deals directly with the issues associated with crime victims and having them lobby in conjunction with the victims' rights movement for different pieces of legislation that have really helped victims." He attributes increased Federal government involvement to the "heroes of the movement," many of whom are themselves crime victims.

"And I mean, you can just imagine these people talking about the worst experience in their life over and over again, in order to impact individuals on the Hill and legislatures around this country to get them to do the right thing."

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

Early identifies a need to racially and ethnically diversify the victim assistance field in order for service providers to better represent the victims they serve. He believes that this will require a shift in thinking from focusing on the numbers and percentages of minority defendants to focusing on the numbers and percentages of victims of color. He also stresses the need for a Federal constitutional amendment that would ensure victims' rights beyond the varying state constitutional amendments.

"I don't think the founding fathers of this country ever intended that victims be left out of the system and treated the way they are."

Vision for the Future

Early cites a need for the victim assistance field and the crime prevention movement to come together and understand that they are ".....one and the same." He believes this would require the primary goal of the victim assistance field to be the reduction of the number of victims of crime, and therefore a reduction in criminal activity. Throughout the course of his career, Early has come to realize that to do so requires investing in young people at an early age. His motto is, "I'd rather build a child than repair an adult."

Greatest Fear

At this point in his career, Norm Early doesn't have a greatest fear because he sees good things happening in the future and trusts the people in the victim assistance field to overcome any foreseeable obstacles. As he notes, "I don't see any obstacle on the horizon that we can't meet."