An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
Video and Audio Archive

James Rowland
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from James Rowland
Interviewee:James Rowland;
Fresno, CA
Date of Interview:February 25, 2003
Location:Sacramento, CA

James Rowland


James Rowland is a founding member of the National Organization for Victim Assistance. He is also the former Director of the California Department of Corrections, former Director of the California Youth Authority, and founding Chair of the American Correctional Association's Task Force on Victims of Crime. Rowland is also recognized as "the father of the victim impact statement."

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims Field

In the early part of his career, James (Jim) Rowland was a deputy sheriff in San Bernardino County in California. His involvement with domestic violence, rape, child abuse and homicide cases taught him about crime's devastating effects on victims. "Impact of crime" was a term that he coined after listening to his father, a builder, talk about environmental impact, and it was understanding the impact of crime that led him to join the victim assistance movement.

"I wanted to spread the word that crime does more than cause a victim to fill out an insurance form. For some victims, it is a matter of inconvenience. For other victims, it is a life-changing experience. Based on my observation and experience in the '50s, I simply felt the need to share that information...I wanted people to know that there was a lot of pain and a lot of people were hurt."

Interview Summary

Context of the Era

Rowland remembers that the justice system and justice professionals treated victims with a lack of respect. They had no interest in victims unless they could be useful as evidence. They neglected victims and they ignored their needs and concerns. When victims wanted information about a case and no one would talk to them, sometimes a conflict would develop. Victims would become demanding and justice officials would become frustrated. Rowland also remembers that when he first became involved in the victims' movement, it was lonely until he realized that there were other people in the country also working on crime victims' issues. Successful Strategies

The effort to put victims' issues in the public eye prompted Rowland and some of his criminal justice colleagues to get the Fresno community involved. They created a victims' rights task force that included the business community, the faith community, professional organizations, judges, a public defender and the district attorney. The county probation department was one of the first in the country to have a full-time staff member working exclusively with victims.

A grant from the Lily Foundation allowed Rowland and colleagues on the task force to bring 30 to 40 people from around the country to town for a conference to share ideas, discuss programs, and develop plans to generate energy for the victims' movement. One of the outcomes of the meeting was the formation of National Organization for Victim Assistance

"The more victims we worked with, the more aware we became that we were not only moving in the right direction, but there were some people that were hurt more than we realized, and they were going to be hurting for a long time. That influenced our emphasis on developing services. I think that preparing the impact statements and really learning some of the consequences of crime helped and influenced many people to move toward a service delivery system."


Rather than call it a failure, Rowland explains that he has been disappointed that there has been so much rivalry among various victim assistance organizations. He believes that there has been a lack of core values and uniform philosophy.

"I think the shortcoming is the lack of coordination ...the lack of philosophical principles that the whole field helps develop and buys into," Rowland explains.
He is also frustrated that victim assistance groups in California actively oppose initiatives relating to offender education. He regrets that groups have been successful in stopping good initiatives because they don't see the benefits of offender programming.

Greatest Accomplishments

Generally, Rowland credits victims' rights laws for capturing the attention of elected officials more than anything else. Regarding the victim impact statement, he believes that it has been very influential with regard to recommendations to probation officers, the decisions of judges, and victim services. He reminds us that public defenders were very unhappy with the use of victim impact statements and "appealed the issue all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court."

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

Rowland feels strongly that the field needs core professional values that the whole victim assistance field can buy into. Secondly, study and research on the long-term impact of crime are very important. More study, evaluation and research about what crime does to some victims are critical. Rowland also suggests that advocates work to clarify their own values and their own purposes, and to work hard so that "collaborative ownership will ensure the future."

"I would tell them to work hard, to keep improving themselves, that learning and education is a life-long process, but to remember they are not in it alone. The more people that own the program they are working toward, the greater the survival flexibility. Don't work just to do your thing. Work to do our thing and you will not only do better but you will be more satisfied in your endeavor."

Vision For the Future

Rowland's vision for the future is one in which our society pays equal attention to victims and to the people who are victimizing.

"Let's help victims survive the criminality and let's work with the offenders to see that they don't try to do it again," he says.

Greatest Fear

Rowland fears fragmentation in the victim assistance field: a lack of common ground and common goals, and lack of coordination and research.