The Legislature is considering several measures that would benefit Texas crime victims. All of these measures incorporate the important principle that the victim is first and foremost harmed by property and violent crimes and should therefore be permitted to play a significant role in the resolution of the case.
First, HB 2139 by Representative Ruth McClendon would allow counties to set-up victim-offender mediation programs. The bill is similar to legislation last session that passed out of committee but did not reach the House floor. Eligibility is limited to low-level property offenses. The mediation must be chosen by the victim and the defendant and the case referred by the District Attorney. A written agreement is reached that typically requires restitution and community service.
Studies have shown mediation increases victim satisfaction and restitution collection rates while reducing recidivism. One study found 79 percent of victims who participated in mediations were satisfied, compared with 57 percent of victims who went through the traditional court system. A meta-analysis found that 72 percent of victim-offender mediation programs reduce recidivism.
Another positive bill for crime victims is HB 1228 by Rep. Jim Jackson. For the first time, Texas would confer rights on victims of property felonies. Currently, Texas’ victims rights statute defines victim as someone harmed by a violent crime. Other states provide rights to victims of property crimes. This legislation would extend victims the right, upon request, to be informed of relevant proceedings, attend those proceedings, and express a preference to the prosecutor on the type of punishment.
Finally, HB 167 by Rep. Elliott Naishtat, and its companion, SB 57 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, would allow victims to give an oral impact statement before sentencing. This would give victims an opportunity to discuss the impact of the crime and have that taken into account by the court.
Lawmakers should seriously consider these bills that would empower and restore Texas crime victims.
– Marc Levin