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OPINION: Don’t Forget Victims in Criminal Justice Reform


By Chris Hicks, Washoe County District Attorney

Chris Hicks photo

The term “Criminal justice Reform is an often heard phrase nowadays, especially while our Nevada Legislature is in session.  

But what does criminal justice reform mean? The verb reform is defined as “to put or change into an improved form or condition.”  An important question to ask is, improved for who? Who would these changes benefit? Would it be victims of crime, our community, or do criminals stand to gain the most if these bills become law?  

Consider some national crime statistics from 2017.  5.6 million U.S. residents reported being victimized by violent crime.  There were over 17,000 murders, over 300,000 robberies, and over 1.4 million burglaries.  U.S. households experienced 13.3 million property crimes with estimated losses at $15.3 billion.  10,874 people were killed in impaired driving crashes.

These unfortunate statistics lend some context to the volume of victims of crime in our society.  Clearly, crime victims, those who were wronged, should be a top priority in the criminal justice reform movement. Unfortunately, they are sometimes overlooked.     

April 7-13 is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, an annual observance dedicated to informing the public about victimization, as well as the effect crime has on individuals, families, friends and the community.  Simply, it is a week to honor victims of crime.

Think about these sweeping criminal justice reform measures that are currently bills in Carson City when considering whose benefitting from this reform:

  • (1) Rendering the criminal repeat offender statute unusable;
  • (2) Making possession of large quantities, even pounds, of the most deadly drugs a mere misdemeanor;
  • (3) Allowing geriatric release from prison of pedophiles and violent criminals who are as young as 60 years old with no demonstrable medical need;
  • (4) Prohibiting a judge from revoking a violator from the privilege of probation for using illicit drugs, failing to follow a treatment program, failing to seek and maintain employment, or failing to pay any required fines or fees;
  • (5) Elimination of a victim’s opportunity to be heard when bail is decided;
  • (6) Reducing the penalties for burglaries to as low as a gross misdemeanor.

Without a doubt, examining our criminal justice system for effectiveness, equality, and efficiency is imperative.  When issues are found, common sense changes should be pursued diligently. Seeking smarter pathways to rehabilitating our offenders is meaningful and my office supports these efforts daily.  

However, wholesale criminal justice reform that only “improves the form or condition” of the system for criminals sacrifices safety for all of us, and erodes the public’s confidence in law enforcement and the criminal justice system.  

Most importantly, it serves as an affront to past and future crime victims everywhere. This week remember that crime victims cannot be forgotten in the criminal justice reform movement.

Christopher J. Hicks is the 37th District Attorney for Washoe County. The Alliance for Victims’ Rights Candlelight Vigil will be held at the Mills B. Lane Justice Center 3rd floor conference room on Wednesday, April 10th, at 5:30.  If you have been a victim of a crime, visit the online Directory of Crime Victim Services at http://ovc.ncjrs.gov/findvictimservices to find services in your area.

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