An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Sharon English & Anne Seymour
Interview Transcript

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Interview Transcript

timecode Hook: Sharon English and Anne Seymour, please tell me about victim services in the juvenile justice system. How did it get started?

timecode Seymour: Well, this is 2003. The victims' rights field is 31 years old this year. And, uh, needless to say we spent the first 20 years trying to fix the criminal justice system, and in doing so we tended to neglect the fact that there were a lot of victims of juvenile offenders which was a completely different system. And if you've never been to the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee, you will not possibly understand this story and how the issue really emerged in terms of national impact. Sharon?

timecode English: Well, the Opryland Hotel turned out to be a little, it was an opportunity for us to try to find our room and when we couldn't find a room, we thought well let's just sit down and write a report about victims of juveniles. As we were wondering through this huge hotel, luckily, Anne had a laptop and I was babbling trying to find my room and babbling about all these other issues and one--a lot of those issues had to do with victims of juveniles. So I think we finally sort of hit a point of well why don't we sit down; we can't find our room anyway; why we don't just sit down, order a glass of wine, and see if we can write a report and come up with some recommendations about victims of juveniles.

timecode Seymour: We heard Patsy Cline--Patsy Cline "Crazy" was playing off like a mile down the green carpet.

timecode English: Not the real Patsy Cline.

timecode Seymour: Yeah, she was dead.

timecode English: But the--she died.

timecode Seymour: Yeah.

timecode English: But... but they had the CD and we heard that and so we thought we were crazy so we might as well go ahead and do it.

timecode Seymour: And we did. We sat down to ACA Convention with, and it was like a 40 pound laptop that--just 1994 and we started saying, 'cause we were at ACA, let's address victim services in juvenile correction. Sharon had started the premiere program in the country. She knew a thing or two about it. But after Patsy Cline got to us, we had a glass of wine we said why stop with corrections? Let's just take on the entire juvenile system. And what came out of that was the ACA report and recommendations on victims of juvenile offenders where we--I think we convinced ourselves certainly and hopefully other people that victims of juvenile offenders had different needs and they were unique in a lot of ways. The opening sentence came from Sharon's mouth and she said and I repeat her often, that victims of crime should not be discriminated against simply because of the age of their offenders. And that was sort of the premise for the report.

timecode English: It was and we started just sort of brainstorming: well what are the differences; what are the problems? And one of the major problem is the language. With adults it's very clear. People understand sentencing. They understand conviction. They understand prison. With the juvenile system, they really couch those in very soft terms. So you're not really convicted, they make a finding about your behavior. You don't really go to custody, you go to a placement. There's never--no--just a lot of differences like that where juveniles are protected. They're protected by confidentiality, and that's fine. And they're protected in terms of their record and looking forward. But it really doesn't help crime victims to have this foreign language when they're trying to figure out what the heck happened in their case and what are their rights. The other part of it is that the rights for juveniles are not the rights for victims of juvenile offenders do not mirror the rights that victims have in the adult system. And so we also took that on. What are the one--why wouldn't you. So we walked through them. Why wouldn't you want notification on a juvenile offender? Why wouldn't a victim want restitution from a juvenile offender, although it's harder to get the money sometimes; although we don't assume they don't have resources and they do? Why wouldn't a victim of a juvenile, why wouldn't they want to make an impact statement either to the court or at the parole board hearings? So the more we went through, we went well heck yeah. I mean why not? Why not? I mean we couldn't think of one right that victims had over adult offenders that you wouldn't also want as a... a victim of a juvenile offender.

timecode Kind of a sidebar that we didn't address but that came up recently when I was on the parole board doing some hearings was that we had a 12-year-old whose father had been murdered by the person we were doing the parole board hearing for and he wants to make a statement. And it created this big discussion about we can't let a 12-year-old make an impact statement. And my response was, "Well, why not?" There's nothing in the law in the Constitution that says you can't make a statement because you're too young. Now you add some sort of logic to this. You wouldn't want a toddler there. But in this case this is a 12-year-old and guess what? You can co--be committed to the Youth Authority at 12. Why can't you come in as a victim? And so it also spills over to not only the victims of juveniles but juveniles who are the victims of juveniles or the survivors are victims who were killed by a juvenile. Boy, was that a full circle statement.

timecode Seymour: So the long... long story short is that we... we... published this report. It was like 22 pages. Um, and when I say publish, you know, we would like mimeograph copies and passed them out to our friends. The Office for Victims of Crime got a hold of it...

timecode English: True.

timecode Seymour: And Susan Laurence, uh, rest her soul, uh, who came from juvenile justice background said we would like to take this on as an issue. And that was about a year later in 1995, which was less than 10 years ago. And I think wh--I can say I'm proud, I think we're both really proud that, uh, we've seen significant growth in the past 10 years in victims of juvenile offender arena. But I also think a challenge to the field is when we're talking victims. Just don't think that big bad criminal justice system. As Sharon said we must mirror the rights of victims of criminal offenders in the juvenile justice system. I think we have a long way to go.

timecode English: And one other future kind of thing that needs to happen is that most of the victim witness kinds of services within the courts and the counties and states are in the adult system, the criminal system. There're very few that where the juvenile, where there is juvenile a... a victim witness advocate in the juvenile court system. So we need to also push for equity there. If you look at a lot of the stats about who are victims, the--one of the largest age groups for victimization are the teenage years, the young teenage years, the adolescent years. And yet you very seldom hear about an adolescent making an impact statement in court about the issues of restitution or that kind of stuff because they're not considered to be in the same ballpark. So I think that that would be another way for the Federal government to look at this and to take it one step further to say what are the resources we need for adolescent rape victims and dating violence victims? Domestic violence victims and these kids are beating up their siblings? And then the other kinds of crimes like robbery and homicide and what rights should they have.

timecode Seymour: So think globally, act juvenilely.

timecode English: Big picture. Youthfully.

timecode Seymour: Youthfully. Us talking about youthfully (laughs). Okay. We're done.