Friday, April 27, 2012

The needs of victims

From a letter to the editor by Rae Giesing in Wednesday's Groton (CT) Patch:

This week is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week – a week to honor crime victims’ rights, and to advocate for our needs. I never expected this would be something I would observe, but six years ago my son and his stepbrother were murdered. I have a new perspective on a lot of things now.

This is also the week where it’s expected that Governor Malloy will sign the bill repealing Connecticut’s death penalty, leaving in place life imprisonment without the possibility of release. I worked with over 180 other murder victims’ family members to see that this law was passed.
I love that these two events are coinciding because they fit nicely together. The reason so many victims’ family members advocated for repeal is we saw the ways the death penalty harms us. It creates an arbitrary (if not racist and classist) distinction about which cases are “worthy” of capital punishment and which murders don’t merit the ultimate punishment.
To each of us who have lost a loved one, our experience was absolutely the “worst of the worst”. The system is also brutal to those survivors who do become embroiled in capital case. The trial is long, highly publicized and it takes decades of waiting before there’s even the hope that the execution will actually be carried out.
To me, one of the most troubling aspects of the death penalty is how it diverts financial resources and media attention. Connecticut usually has about 100 homicides a year. We used to spend upwards of $5 million annually on one or two capital cases.
Think about what a difference the state could make in the lives of those 100 families if we re-directed those $5 million to victims’ services. 
This is a week to advocate for the needs of victims -- having the death penalty off the books is an important first step.

But we’ve more to do. When my son was murdered I struggled with everything from getting out bed in the morning to surviving the criminal justice system. When you lose a child to murder, “overwhelmed” takes on a whole new meaning.
For four years I stumbled through my life from one court appearance to the next, 80 visits in all. There are a lot of things that could have helped me and my family, but we never received: additional court appointed victims’ advocates to help with both the emotional trauma and navigating the legal system, counseling or assistance caring for my sons left behind, or somehow feeling heard and empowered by the prosecutors.
I hope that with the death penalty out of the way we can focus on improving current programs and developing new programs to help families like mine cope with the horror of losing a loved one.
I am grateful this week for repeal, and I am grateful for the work of victims’ advocates and allies in Connecticut. Our work is far from over, but I am encouraged that we have taken this important step toward a more just Connecticut.
Rae K. Giesing

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