The President's Task Force on Victims of Crime, whose report was released Jan. 27, makes 68 wide-ranging recommendations, including calling for congressional funding of crime-victim compensation and victim-witness assistance programs.
Financial compensation for losses sustained by victims of violent crime, says the task force, "must be an integral part of both federal and state governments' response."
Acknowledging that although the tragedy and trauma of victims cannot be eliminated by such payments, they could help victims "begin the often lengthy process of recovery," says the report, and help them preserve "not only some modicum of stability and dignity but also life itself."
Ordering restitution by the offender, the task force says, "is a laudable goal that should be actively pursued, but its limitations must be recognized."
The task force suggests creation of a Crime Victim's Assistance Fund, to be funded in part by "federal criminal fines, penalties and forfeitures that currently are paid into the general fund," to ensure "a program that is both administratively efficient and self-sufficient, requiring no funding from tax revenues."
The first half of the fund would be called the Federal Victim Compensation Fund, but would go to victims "regardless of whether the crime violates state or federal law." The second half, the Federal Victim/Witness Assistance Fund, would be used to help victim and witness assistance programs "throughout the federal, state and local system."
The task force recommends that the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, guaranteeing speedy and public trials for those accused of crime, be amended to include: "Likewise, the victim, in every criminal prosecution shall have the right to be present and to be heard at all critical stages of judicial proceedings."
Among other recommendations:
* Prohibiting release of victims' or witnesses' addresses to the defense or public without a court order.
* Admitting heresay evidence at preliminary hearings so victims need not testify there.
* Opening parole hearings to the public, with eventual abolition of parole.
* Restitution for personal injury and property loss unless the court cites specific reasons for not doing so.
* Prohibiting offenders from profiting from the sale of the story of their crimes.
The nine-member task force spent several months on the 144-page report, including hearings last fall in six cities across the United States. The panel heard testimony from both victims and professionals, in and outside the criminal justice system.