An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Judge Lois Haight
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from Judge Lois Haight
Interviewee:Judge Lois Haight;
Oakland, CA
Date of Interview:February 24, 2003
Location:Sacramento, CA

Judge Lois Haight




Biography

The Honorable Lois Haight served as Chair of the 1982 President's Task Force on Victims of Crime. She is currently the Chief Judge of the Juvenile Court in Contra Costa County, CA.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

Judge Lois Haight was a prosecutor in Oakland, CA when she first became involved in crime victim-related issues. Soon after her husband was called to Washington to serve in the Reagan Administration, the U.S. Department of Justice invited Haight to chair the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime in 1981.


Interview Summary

Context of the Era

While Haight worked with all types of crime victims, there was a focus in her prosecutor's office on assistance to domestic violence victims: how the police treated them and whether they were supported when they went to court. She was personally concerned about issues brought on by their fear of testifying, their tendency to drop charges, the kind of intimidation they experienced and their safety concerns.

The head of her office at the time, Harold Boscovich, had set the tone for sensitivity to victim's needs and concerns. He applied for LEAA funds to develop a Victim Assistance Unit in the District Attorney's Office. He believed in court accompaniment for victims, for example. Despite his efforts, not every prosecutor was trained about victim sensitivity. Some of them didn't realize what they didn't know and they weren't sensitive to victims.

"I remember sitting in my office as a prosecutor and there was a fellow prosecutor who was very good in court, sitting in the office next to me. I heard him say to a victim who was a rape case, 'Spit it out, just spit it out like spinach, spit it out.' I got up from my desk and walked around and I said, 'You know, that is not going to work. You just can't tell her that'."

Greatest Challenges

Once the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime initiative was under way and Haight began to travel the country to meet with victims and victim advocates, she realized the extent of the problems they were facing. People were not taking the plight of victims seriously. The criminal justice system was way out of balance in the favor of offenders and the public was unaware or indifferent. Furthermore, the degree to which victims were blamed within the justice system and in the public eye was shocking.

Haight believes that bureaucracy gets in the way of serving victims. Laws on the books are not followed, and victims are regularly denied their rights. She recommends both vigilance and active listening to crime victims to make sure that their rights and needs are respected.

"Blame them, blame them. That's the biggest thing they did. The blame was insidious.....so insidious it was hard for people to recognize it. You know, the employer would blame the victim; the friends would blame the victim. 'Why did you go out at night?' 'Why did you wear that red dress?' The victims felt it. They did not want to come forward and be blamed."

Successful Strategies

The principle strategy of the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime was to talk directly with victims of crime about their experiences. The Task Force held hearings all over the country and invited victims to testify. They also had many one-on-one encounters with victims in informal environments. Haight tells memorable stories of her encounters with victims, including Betty Jane Spencer and Elvis Regalia.

The second important strategy was to focus the attention of the policymakers and the media on crime victim issues. Following the publication of the Final Report, Haight took 350 trips around the United States as Assistant Attorney General, giving press conferences and talking to legislatures, Governors and the judiciary.

Failures

Haight regrets that once the Victims of Crime Act was passed in 1984 and funds became available to support victim services, that the small grassroots organizations -- the kind that started up in "people's garages and their guest bedrooms" -- were not equipped to compete for the funds. She feels that the small groups were pushed aside by the "huge glossy people with the incredible applications" because the standards necessary to apply prerequisites for VOCA funds were too stringent.

"All the District Attorneys would come in and want to gobble up the money or all the law enforcement people would gobble up all the money. These 'mom and pop people' who were doing a lot of the grunt work and doing the real work and the serious work were not getting the help they needed."

Greatest Accomplishment

Haight believes the greatest accomplishment is that victims no longer have to pay for their own counseling, as had been the standard of the past. Having spoken to so many victims, Haight is well aware of their needs and concerns: the blame they feel, the violation, the isolation and the harsh treatment they often endure in the justice system. They really need victim compensation for therapy to understand such issues, to talk about their fears and to try to cope with their victimizations.

Other areas where Haight believes there has been great progress is in the use of victim impact statements in sentencing and victim input into key decision-making, such as plea-bargains and parole release considerations. Effective policies about confidentiality of victim contact information and prompt return of victim property are also important developments.

Vision for the Future

Haight's vision is simple: More help for more victims, with particular attention to child victims. There is a tremendous amount of child victimization that has gone unreported and one of the "holes" in services that creates real problems is the limited availability of counseling for victimized children.

"These children are our future and we do know that violence does beget violence and we do know that children learn from what they see. If we want to change that script for them then we have got to get them help earlier," Haight explains.

To young advocates beginning their professional careers, she recommends that they formally meet their judges, prosecutors, and local law enforcement, identify themselves and explain their role as advocates. They should explain what they need to serve victims effectively and they should let the criminal justice professionals know that they are there to help.

Greatest Fear

Haight fears that already diminishing funds for victim programs will be taken to address other criminal justice needs. Not only will the progress made be lost, but what remains to be done will go unfunded. She has also found that the use of illegal drugs such as cocaine and meth- amphetamine is so tied to violent crime--90 percent of the cases in her court are caused by assailants under the influence--that it is critical that communities get serious about illegal drug use.