An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
Video and Audio Archive
Since 1987, Bill Stutz has been a pioneer in victim services within the Department of Corrections in the State of Washington. As Victim/Witness Manager, he oversees programs that provide extensive services and support to crime victims; collaboration between corrections and community-based victim service providers throughout the state; and initiatives that enhance victim safety during offender reentry to the community.
Stutz became aware of the critical issues facing crime victims during the incarceration and supervision phases of the offender's sentence as a probation and parole officer in the 1970s. At that time there was a new program based on a new law passed in Washington State called "victim notification," which had an impact on his desire to get more involved with victims' rights and services in correctional agencies.
"I think people who work in corrections are afraid of victims. I think that number one, we don't know what to say to them. We don't know how to respond to them, and so therefore we don't. And that gets interpreted as, 'the system doesn't care'."
Stutz remembers that there was little effort to work collaboratively in corrections. Corrections officials operated on the theory that they knew best what should be done with offenders, and that it was up to them to carry out their work on behalf of the public. There were discussions about harm caused by crime, and the recognition that they wanted to prevent victimization, but they did not feel that they needed victims. Corrections believed that they could make good decisions without victim input.
"When you look at corrections," Stutz remembers, "we are about power and we are about control over certain peoples' lives...whether it is an inmate in prison or an offender being supervised. We have a lot authority over those individuals. The biggest challenge has been to change the philosophy: since we are about power and control over offender lives, we need to involve victims."
"We built walls to keep people inside, but I think that we built our walls to keep people from coming in as well. And we had ourselves to blame because we said, 'We don't need you, victims'."
For Stutz, the greatest challenge in bringing victim services to corrections was the paradigm shift -- a change in the philosophy of power and control over offenders that involved victim participation. From the corrections point of view, victim assistance had been considered "touchy feely" and staff had to see beyond that limited perception to realize how important victim involvement could be to their work.
Education opened the door for victim involvement in corrections. The use of the victim impact statement at the time of pre-sentence and sentencing, victim impact classes inside prisons, and inviting victims to participate helped clarify how offenders "depersonalize the people that they injured...Opening the door and providing information and education have been the biggest forces in moving this field forward in corrections."
Stutz believes that territorialism has sometimes interfered with corrections-based programs that would have benefitted victims. He tells the story of a pilot volunteer program that the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) developed in the early 1990s. Victim services in corrections are centralized in the state capital offering poor access to crime victims who live all over the state who wished to voice their concerns about the release of offenders. The DOC launched a pilot county-based program using volunteers who were to serve as correctional advocates in the field and meet with victims personally. The program was scuttled when the county victim/witness advocate felt threatened about her territory.
As a follow-up to his discussion of turf issues, Stutz goes on to say that one of the greatest accomplishment in his agency with regard to victims' rights and services has been the well-established relationships that have now been developed between the victim services community and corrections in Washington. The extent of their collaboration has allowed corrections the latitude to develop innovative programs such as the victim-wraparound program in place now for two years that addresses safety issues for victims at high risk when offenders are released to the community.
Stutz believes that a mentoring system is essential for the healthy evolution of the field of victims' rights and services. Pioneers launched the early grassroots movement and set the stage for a group of dynamic and highly committed advocates to provide national leadership and advocate for public policy. As these leaders approach the end of their careers, without a mentoring system, it is not guaranteed that there will be a second wave of committed younger advocates who will carry the effort forward. "We have come a long way and we have so far to go; we just need that second wave," Stutz said.
Stutz's advice to newcomers in the field is to cultivate patience and perseverance. He feels these virtues are important because change does happen, but very slowly.
"Don't be afraid to become involved. Don't be afraid to push that envelope. Don't be afraid to ask people to participate. Because that is the only way we are going to learn more, and the more we can learn the more responsive we can be."
The vision is a full partnership between corrections and victims so that they are involved and have a voice in the process, whether it is for offender supervision or release planning. He believes that this vision must become a reality to achieve the ultimate goal of "there not being any more victims."
Stutz's greatest fear is that the new generation of advocates are not being mentored. He sees this as being very dangerous because when the advocates who have been in the field for 15 or 20 years retire, there will not be another generation of advocates, or a "second brigade behind them."
|This project was supported by Grant Number 2002-VF-GX-0009 awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view in this product are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.|