A new, and sobering, report released last week reveals that 4 in 10 Texans have been a victim of crime in the last ten years with many experiencing trauma, stress, anxiety and fear as a result. The report from the Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ) further shows that 7 in 10 violent crime victims have been victims more than once, and that 9 in 10 Texas crime victims do not receive support from the state’s victim compensation program that could help them recover.
I know all too well that these statistics are the reality for survivors of crime. I was raped as a teenager, and again in my early twenties. It threw me into a repeat cycle of victimization and self-harm. The post traumatic impact of my experience left me struggling emotionally and self medicating with alcohol and drugs for many years. Now 11 years sober, I am a survivor, and I do not want what happened to me to happen to others.
I knew nothing about the victim compensation program after being attacked, something that the report showed is true for 2 out of every 3 crime victims. Our state needs to do more to raise awareness about the victim compensation program and ensure crime victims receive the support we need to heal.
In my capacity as Regional Training Manager of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, I have travelled across Texas and heard the same thing again and again — survivors want safety, support, and strategies proven to reduce crime, such as rehabilitation. The state legislature has the opportunity this legislative session to enact real changes to improve our criminal justice system and make our communities safer.
The vast majority of the people who get locked up in our state eventually come home. We must send them back to their communities better than when they went in, not worse. There is no population more likely to be responsive to rehabilitative programs or more in need of them than the population cycling in and out of our state jail system. Research has shown that people are too often choosing incarceration over probation because the probation parameters and requirements are daunting, excessively lengthy, and feel unrealistic.
That people are choosing to sit in our state jails rather than be held accountable on probation under community supervision is both costly to the state and does not promote public safety. People who are incarcerated are far less likely to go through adequate rehabilitative programs and are more likely to reoffend than those who successfully complete probation.
House Bill 3512 by Representative Leo Pacheco and Senate Bill 2188 by Senator John Whitmire will do more to focus our state resources on helping probationers successfully rehabilitate and become contributing members of their local communities and our state as a whole. These measures will strengthen incentives for probationers to complete faith- and community-based programs, individualize conditions of supervision, and align the ability-to-pay in the probation system with those in all other criminal court proceedings.
Right now, we simply aren’t doing enough to break the cycle of crime in our communities or to rehabilitate those who cause harm, many of whom are victims themselves. As a crime survivor, I support the pending legislation. Texas can do a better job of breaking the cycle of crime, and this legislation is a necessary step.
Forbes is the regional training manager for Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice.