An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Hook: Uh, well good afternoon and welcome to the OVC Oral History Project. Bill, could you say your name and spell it, please.
Stutz: Name is Bill Stutz, S-T-U-T-Z.
Hook: And could you tell me when or how you first got involved in the crime victims' movement?
Stutz: It was 1987. I started with the Department of Corrections as a probation and parole officer. And at that time there was a new program starting up. It was based upon a piece of legislation that passed in Washington State called Victim Notification. And, through my experience as a probation and parole officer, I was hired as a probation and parole officer in the early 1970s and at that time the focus and to this day the focus was certainly on offender supervision. But I had come into contact with a number of victims of crime. At that time we were... we weren't allowed to share any information to the victims of crime about the offender, the status of the offender, and there were obviously some cases that I think had an impact on my... my desire to get more involved with... with the rights and victim services in Corrections. One... one case in particular sticks in my mind and it really had nothing to do with a heinous crime. I mean I think when we talk about the impact of crime, we talk about violent offenses and heinous crimes and the horrible things that people do to other people.
This happened to be a case where in Washington at that time in the early 1970s there was a crime. Uh, it was a felony for failing to pay child support, for non-support. And I remember I was in the office and the, the offender -- his name is Robert -- he was sent to prison for non-support. He had been paroled and while he was in prison, his wife divorced him. She remarried and there were, as I recall, something like five or seven children to that marriage. Well, she had remarried. And one day the stepfather came into the office and he wanted to know where Robert was working. He wanted to know where Robert was living because Robert still was not paying child support. And we could not give any information. I couldn't give him any information. So the stepfather left the office very, very upset and his parting words to me that day was, "I'll be back." The next day I happened to take the day off and I got a call at home and I was asked to come into the office. And I said, "Well gee, I have the day off." And they said, "No, Bill, we really need for you to come in the office." So as I approached the front door of our office, there was a note that was pinned to the... to the door. And it said "if you won't help me by telling me information, at least you can help me by taking care of the garbage of my children." And there were 27 bags of... 27 hefty bags of garbage stacked up against the door. (laughter)
And even though as... as looking back and as... as comical as that was, it really said to me at that time that victims had no rights, that the rights for information. You know, here's a father who wanted to take care of his family to try to get some information about what was going on with the biological father, and we couldn't give any information out. That's a case that really sticks to--in my mind about the right that victims have for information, the rights that victims have from the justice system to help them get on with their lives. Because I think that that's been a piece that has been missing in my experience is the justice systems and in particular Corrections in helping victims get on with their... with their life following the impact of the crime.
Hook: If you could just elaborate and describe the field of victim rights and services when you started within your agency.
Stutz: When I started there really was not a field. Like I said I started in the early 1970s. And the word victim and Corrections were not spoken in the same sentence. I think so I think that the when I first started in with the Department of Corrections there really wasn't a field. We were all about offenders. We were about supervising offenders. And we talked about holding offenders accountable. But there really--and I think that there were some very good efforts to hold offenders accountable if there were substance abuse problems or if there was anger management problems. We really were focusing in on holding offenders accountable around what I call the life deficiencies that the offenders were experiencing. But there really was no accountability that Corrections in particular had in relationship to the victim. Victims were viewed as a piece of evidence. They were viewed as a witness that they... they were needed to get the prosecution.
And once that's done, then the needs of the victims, the aftermath that victims experience following the crime and the experiences with... with the criminal justice system, it was forgotten about.
Hook: Was there any sense of victims being in danger or being, being threatened by somebody who was vengeful?
Stutz: Oh I think that there was always a concern. There was always that focus, you know but we really didn't do a lot about that except turn to or... or focus our efforts on... on the offender. I think in my experience, when I, in growing up with the... with the criminal justice system and in particular corrections I think we took on the philosophy that we know it all; that we're... that we're going to do this for you. And so there really was not a... an effort to work collaboratively. Those of us who grew up within the system kind of had the philosophy that well we will do this for you. You know we build walls to keep people inside. But I think we build... we built our walls to keep people from... from coming in as well. And so in my experience I think the whole criminal justice system in part took it upon ourselves.
We... we have ourselves to blame because we said we don't need you, victims. We're gonna do this for you. We have a whole lot more information and so we don't need you. We're gonna make good decisions about this... this offender without you. And so I think there was a lot of... there was a lot of dialog about we didn't want any more victims. And there was a lot of dialog back then about the harm but we really didn't know that the true impact and the true harm that offenders cause.
Hook: What was the greatest challenge that you and your colleagues have faced in setting up victim services in Corrections? Stutz
Stutz: I think the buzzword is paradigm shift. But I think the whole... the whole thinking process. You know when... when you look at corrections, you--we're about power and we're about control over... over certain people's lives. Whether... whether it's an inmate in prison or an offender being supervised, we have a lot of authority over those individuals. And when I think the big... the biggest challenge was to... has been to change the philosophy that since we are about power and control over offenders lives that we need to involve victims. I think in the correctional arena when... when you talk about victims, you're talking about touchy feely stuff in the past. And that's not what corrections is all about. We're not about touchy feely. We're about that power, that authority, the control. So there really was... was a huge dichotomy that I think existed between the philosophy of corrections as it existed in the '70s and '80s and victim involvement.
When you... when you thought about victim involvement, that was the touchy feely aspect and that's not what corrections is all about. At least that's what... that's what the philosophy was back then.
Hook: To accomplish that change, to get that paradigm shift or alter the thinking process is another way you were describing it what were the tactics? What were the strategies? Or and were there any secrets, ways of approaching it in order to achieve your goal?
Stutz: I can't say that there were any secrets. I think through education, I think as that door started to open and I think, victim impact statements encouraging victims for input at the time of pre-sentence, at the time of sentencing, as that door started to open, I think that the--if you and it wasn't even a tactic. It was as that door started to open and there was more invitation that was given to victims to participate, I think that's how that paradigm shift started. For an example, we started the victim impact class in Washington State. And up to that point I think there was a recognition that offenders depersonalized the people that they injured.
Offenders philosophy in what I call the thinking errors of offenders was if somebody burglarized a home, offenders would say well there really was no loss because the insurance company would... would cover that loss. And when we started the impact classes in Washington State, which I happened to come down to Sacramento for the first time met Sharon English, they had the program in the Youth Authority. And I asked them, I said, "Does this really have an impact on changing behavior or does--is this really... is this really a program that has an impact?" And the response I got was, "Well it all depends on what you define as impact. Our parole board likes it. The wards in custody like the program. The community likes it." And I said, "Well does it really have the impact on changing behavior?" And at that time the response was, "We don't have enough history behind that."
When we... when we started the program in Washington State and I attended a number of the classes, when we started the program, I had offenders actually come up to me and say I went into this class thinking I did not have a victim, and I understand now that I do have a victim. I wasn't aware that my behavior had such an impact on my children or my parents. So the whole focus of not only the primary victim but the secondary victims, I think it--so opening that door and providing information and education, I think, has been the biggest attribute to moving this field forward. And inviting victims to participate, I think that that's--so if you want to talk about tactics, it is I suppose it is a... it's... it... it's more strategic planning, tactics are just kind of the secretive thing in that. And I don't think that that's what this is all about. I think we have to be, we have to be honest about what we're, what Corrections is all about. We have to be honest about that we cannot do this alone. Can--so inviting victims into the process.
Hook: I've often heard people who work in corrections talk... talking about the need for an agency mindset change for them to be open to the vict--victim participation. If that was the case in your department is the mindset change require its own strategy? Or does it just happen naturally as a result of progress?
Stutz: I think that there has to be a strategy to it. I think the whole victims' movement has been very, very helpful in changing this... this mindset. 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... and so therefore we don't. And that gets interpreted that the system doesn't care. When your sole focus has been on offenders and that authority aspect and then all of a sudden there's this a... analogy that I use for offenders we tell them; for victims we ask them. And that's a huge shift in what Corrections is all about. Because we're used to telling offenders in terms of monitoring conditions, in terms of release planning, in terms of it's basically behavior control.
But then when you... when you step over that boundary and you... you involve yourself with the crime victims, you don't tell them, you ask them. You find out. And that's a big challenge I think for... for many people, working in Corrections.
Hook: What are the failures, in general, in terms of victim services in Corrections? Or are there failures?
Stutz: I can't say that there's... there's failures. I think the challenges that have presented themselves, in my experience, is the lack of collaborative effort. I think the territorialism. I remember about ten years ago when I, I had... I was relatively new to the position that I'm in now and at that time I managed the notification and it was strictly a notification program. And I felt a need to and it was a... it was primarily a paper notification process. We certainly addressed a lot of the victim's concerns and questions over the telephone but the personal contact outside of telephone contact was missing. And I felt a need that we needed people out in the field. We needed, if a victim was voicing concerns about the release of offenders, my... my feeling was instead of just having somebody pick up the telephone, let's put that victim in contact with a live person.
And so about ten years ago I wanted to implement a volunteer program where we actually had volunteers, volunteers for the Department of Corrections, who were out in the field that we could then refer victims to volunteers who could then make personal contact in the field. Because when we talk about victim services and the program that I manage is a centralized program which is located in the... in the state capital but... but we know that victims don't only live in Olympia. They're out in the... they're out in Seattle, and they're in Tacoma, and they're... they're in Winthrop, very small community in eastern Washington. There are, and so my... my desire was to put volunteers out there so that we have. And we decided as a department to pilot this in one of the larger counties in Washington State. Well as soon as we did that, I'll never forget and she has become my... my closest friend to this day, but the Director of the Victim Witness Program in that county immediately thought that the Department of Corrections was on the move to take over victim services in the field.
And certainly that was not the intent. But I think the territorial, the lack of collaboration has been a major challenge. I think we've... we've overcome some of that with the creation of our victim council. The more that we invite victims into... into the process I think that challenge has been reduced. But certainly it's still is still there. So in terms of, I don't know that there's been failures; I think there's been larger challenges than... than others. And that's the biggest one is the lack of I think collaborative effort.
Hook: Di--did the volunteer program continue? Was it successful?
Stutz: No, it did not. At that time the elected prosecutor in that county and my Director and myself... my Director and myself flew to that county, had a meeting, and it was decided that we would... we would back off of that so that we were not given... we were not giving the impression that the Department of Corrections was trying to take over victim services in... in the counties.
Hook: What do you perceive as the one greatest accomplishment that's pro--promoted victims' rights and needs?
Stutz: I think Constitutional Amendments was a... was a... has been a, um, a big success. I think getting into and certainly the paradigm shift or the philosophy, the mindset change that I've talked about isn't just gonna happen with legislation, with public policy. But it's a foundation. It's a... it's a starting point. So I thi--I think Constitutional Amendments around victims' rights has been a big, success. I think the more that we become knowledgeable about the true harm that is done to victims, I think one of the things that I have seen over the years is that we have... we have recognized that we don't have the information so the research about the impact of crime on victims. And who knows best but the crime victims themselves. So and that leads to then the next step and that's you have to invite them in.
You have to... you have to be proactive in inviting victims to participate in the process. The choice is theirs and -- but if we don't, I don't think that we can truly know the true harm or the impact of crime.
Hook: What about within your agency? Wher--what do you feel the most, has been the biggest accomplishment within your agency that's really helped victims or that's addressing victims' needs?
Stutz: I have been very fortunate in my... in my professional career of having Directors and Secretaries of Corrections to give me the kind of the latitude to develop programs. That's also very important is to have your... your top administrator's ear. I think that that's very critical. I can't think of any... any time that I've wanted to implement a program where I have... where I've met resistance. I think part of that early into... into my career, part of that was this whole arena of victim services in corrections is new. We don't know what it's about from our top administrators so therefore maybe it was just the idea we're going to leave Bill alone and let him... let him do. I think now... now that we have a well-established relationship with the victim community, Corrections and the victim community have really entered into a collaborative effort.
I think a lot of that is to the credit of our current Secretary and that's Joe Layman. Very, very supportive of victims' rights and services. It's been a wonderful journey for me because coming in--either from the standpoint we don't know what this is all about so we're not even a--we're not even going to touch it to the point where there is some real guidance and direction. So those are I think another... another success if I can talk about the whole victim wraparound process. Because with a whole re-entry pro--the... the re-entry initiative that is... that currently exists, there's been a lot of talk about victim involvement in the re-entry of offenders coming home, if you will, offenders being released back to the community. And, but there was very little being done to ensure that victims had a voice in that re-entry process. We had one case and this was... this was kind of dumped on... on my desk one day. We had a sex offender and during his sex offender treatment eh--during his prison incarceration he disclosed some... some pretty graphic things that he wanted to do to his victim.
And so my boss brought the case in and said, "I don't know what to do about this, Bill. It's in your lap." And so reading this... this very graphic report about what he wanted... what the offender wanted to do to the 14-year-old victim and her mother, I thought "how are we gonna handle this?" So I met with the victim. I referred her to a community-based program for some services. Independent of meeting with the victim, I then met with law enforcement in that... in that community; explained, and it was basically information sharing at that point. I then met with, independent of law enforcement, met with the supervising what we call community corrections officers or probation and parole officers, independent of the victim and law enforcement, again, to share information. And that was the first victim wraparound. From that, we have taken... taken the concept of bringing community resources, local advocates, law enforcement, mental health communities together to the--at a... at a table with the victim in the center of that discussion. The victim serves as a very, very important voice in terms of that release planning.
Not only in... not only in terms of release planning, but the primary focus of a victim wraparound is safety planning. And that safety planning for the victim is then incorporated into the offender's release plan. The offenders don't participate in the victim wraparound. This meeting is all about the victims. And the victim wrap--or the victim wraparounds that have... that I've conducted I make very, very clear that this meeting is all about the victim. It's not about offenders. And it's about intensive safety planning for victims. So, in my... in my experience that's a huge success because we have... we... we're inviting victims to actually become an equal participant in the reentry of the offender. (tape change)
Hook: How long do these wraparounds stay active?
Stutz: Well the idea behind a victim wraparound is that they... they take on a life of their own. When you talk about the authority and the jurisdiction that the Department of Corrections has over an offender either released to the community directly from the... from the court or released following, prison commitment, the jurisdiction that the Department has it--for some cases can extend over a number of years. But for the most part offenders are under supervision for a couple of years at the most following... following release. And the idea behind a victim wraparound, and that's one of the advantages of bringing the community to the table -- local, local advocates from either domestic violence programs or sexual assault programs; the mental health community, if there are mental health issues related to the offender; chemical dependency, the chemical dependency, community if that happens to be the issue; domestic violence, battered treatment providers; things like that -- that the idea behind the wraparound is that they... that it... it gives the victim an opportunity to connect with his or her community resources. Now during the time that the department has jurisdiction over the offender, we are that coercive side of the system but the idea is to empower and give communities the capacity to help victims with their own safety planning. So one of the things that happens after wraparound is that the victim is well connected. It -- well connected with... with community resources. So then when that jurisdiction of the department stops with that offender, that victim then has built those relationships and those contacts so that the safety planning that is discussed in the wraparound could... could continue to a large degree without the Department of Corrections involvement.
Hook: Who are some of the people, in terms of wh--what kinds of people have had wraparounds so far?
Stutz: We've done... we've done, a lot of wraparounds in domestic violence cases. We've done wraparounds where the crime was assault. We've done wraparounds with... with... with victims when there has been just violations of no contact orders. There hasn't been necessarily a new offense, although that... that could lead to a new offense. But if there's a history of violating no contact orders, we'll do a victim wraparound. We've done victim wraparounds for tribal judges. We had a case where the inmate happened to be Native American and he threatened the Tribal Judge. In this particular case we did a wraparound for the tribal judge. We've done wraparounds where tribal prosecutors have been threatened; tribal probation officers. We've done wraparounds where there... there's a what I refer to as potential victims as well. So from a... from a broad sense, it's I think it's very easy to identify an immediate victim as a result of the crime.
But there are certainly so many potential victims. And I strongly believe that people have a right to feel safe in their communities. And I think this, the whole wraparound process is one way of helping victims feel safe. Anecdotally, I have victims, I've had victims come back and tell me following a wraparound that they thought that they had to prepare for the release of the offender by themselves. And to walk into a room where there's a minimum of six people, up to twenty community people sitting in the same room, that have been assembled for one reason and that's to do safety planning for the victim is very reassuring to the victims from a... from a visual standpoint. And certainly people who leave the wraparound have assignments. Beca--the safety plan that is developed in this wraparound meeting becomes part of the, supervision plan for the offender. We certainly do not convey information to the offender that we have met with the victim, that we've done safety planning.
So the wording of the conditions become very important so that we are not disclosing, the anonymity of the victim to the offender.
Hook: What would you say today is needed to continue the growth and professionalism of the victim field?
Stutz: I think people in my experience the last 15 years have really identified some real pioneers: Anne Seymour, for an example, Sharon English, James Rowland. And we need... we need, if you will, the second wave of people to keep that alive. We need a mentoring system. We need those people who have been involved in this... in this process for a number of years they will move on and we need... we need a true mentoring process to ensure that there are... there's that second... second wave, if I will, if you-- of individuals to keep this alive. That's what we need and I think that's a concern of mine. I think that we've... we've come so far and we have so far to go and we just need... we need, and there... there have been many, many committed people and I've... I've... I've been very fortunate to come into contact with... with a lot of people that I highly respect. But I think we just need that... that second wave.
Hook: What advice can you give to professionals and volunteers who've joined our field more recently, say in the last decade?
Stutz: I think the biggest advice that I can give people who have... who've just recently joined is patience and perseverance. One of the things that have occurred just recently in the state of Washington that I have been advocating for ten years plus and that's victim advocates who are Department of Corrections employees. The volunteer program that I talked about, about of having individuals out in the community... that concept has now come to fruition by the creation of some new positions called community victim liaisons. And they are Department of Corrections employees who are out in the field; they're out in the areas where victims work and play and so victims have a local person instead of having to call my office, which is in the state capitol in Olympia. It's taken... it's taken many years and to bring these positions to fruition but it's there. So I think perseverance and patience I think is one of the advices that I would give new people coming into this field is that change does happen, but change happens very slowly.
Hook: What's your vision for the future of the field?
Stutz: I see, I'd like to see that in any aspect of what Corrections is all about, whether it's offender supervision, it's release planning for offenders, that... that victims are involved in that process; that they have a voice, if they choose, in that process; that the vision is that this... this collaborative effort that I've talked about, that has to happen. This partnership between... between this authority called corrections and this individual called, identified as a victim, that that partnership has to exist so that our ultimate goal is that there is no more victims.
Hook: What's your greatest fear for the field?
Stutz: I think it's that second wave; the lack of mentoring that's going on. That's my biggest fear is that as those who have been in this field for 15 and 20 years as they move on that there isn't that second brigade behind them.
Hook: Is it a passion that's missing? Or leadership?
Hook: That might be missing.
Stutz: The -- I think the passion is there. I think the, another... another concern that, and I think we will overcome this -- in my experience, you know, we've all experienced budget cuts and when... when we talk about public dollars... that's a concern of mine. As... as the public dollars are starting to dry up we need to... we need to be, look at innovative ways of continuing this service even if the public dollar is not there. And I think part of that is, is building those partnerships and that collaborative relationships, and looking at... at different ways of doing the business that... that we are in.
Hook: Now, tell me about Thelma and Louise here in Sacramento here in 1991.
Stutz: I had a truly fortunate experience to work with Anne Seymour and a number of other people to put on the first National Conference of Corrections and Victims. And I remember, well there were, oh I'll bet there was a dozen of us, the core individuals that had worked on... on this project. And we had a planning--actually it was the first day of the conference here in Sacramento and Anne Seymour had a room that had adjoining doors to Helen Ca--uh, Ca--uh, Caruthers and she at that time she was a president of ACA, had the adjoining room with Anne Seymour and then my room which was adjoined by another door. So all three of our rooms were connected. And we were... we were sitting in Anne's room. Uh, we had gotten the tape Thelma and Louise. And as... as it usually, as... as the events turned a lot of the... a lot of the women in the group, which was led by Anne, were kind of rallying on Thelma and Louise. If you've seen the movie, you'll understand... you'll understand what I'm talking about. And at that time I was young, younger, maybe a little bit more naive. And I kept saying yeah but what about... what about the wake that Thelma and Louise were leaving behind them? And so Anne and I got into this major debate.
And Anne was a, has been and she is probably one of my mentors today, very, very well respected. Well, as Anne and I were debating this... this movie, I noticed the room started to divide. I was sitting on the couch watching this and the men in the room started to walk behind me and some of 'em even said to me, "Bill, let's go. Let's... let's... let's just go. Let's go get a beer, Bill." And I said, "No, I'm gonna... I need to pursue this." So Anne and I were debating this quite vigorously. And about that time, Anne left her room, went through Helen Caruthers room, went in to my room and into my closet. And she got a pair of my slacks, which she says today--to this day was polyester slacks, and she came back into her room with a pair of scissors and she cut out the crotch of the my... of my slacks. And so the next day I was doing training on the issues of restitution. And so I used... I used the, my... my slacks with this big hole cut out in the crotch saying that... that victims are entitled to restitution. And this is a perfect example when there's personal property that is destroyed, victims have a right to have that property restored. And that afternoon, Anne and I went over to the department store and she bought me couple pairs of slacks and so that was... that was Thelma and Louise and my slacks.
Hook: Bill, we've covered a lot of different areas. Is there anything before we finish that we haven't talked about that you'd like to go on record on and feel is really important to bring up?
Stutz: I think it's important, as I mention my--I look back on my career and my involvement the people that I've come into contact with, my mentors, and I certainly have only mentioned a couple this afternoon, I think we have to... we have to learn as much as we can about the true impact of crime. Because if we're ever going to have an impact on changing offenders' behavior, we have to truly understand the harm that is done. And so I think it, one thing that I would... I'd like to say is that people entering this field, 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 I think that that's the only way we're gonna learn and the more... the more that we learn, the more responsive I think we can be.
|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.|