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Victims - Crime Victim Compensation

programs million survivors simpson

Victim compensation programs were the earliest manifestations of what was to become a comprehensive and very powerful victims' movement. The first programs were established in New Zealand in 1963 and in England in 1964; then victim compensation was adopted by California in 1965 and thereafter duplicated in other American states and throughout the world. A 1999 count showed that twenty-nine countries had programs to compensate crime victims. All but three offer benefits for crime-inflicted injuries suffered by foreign citizens on their soil. By law the American programs must provide assistance to U.S. residents or their survivors who are injured or killed in a terrorist attack while visiting a foreign country. The state programs are partially supported by the federally subsidized Crime Victims Fund. By 1999, state programs assisted more than two million crime victims and survivors annually.

Crime victim compensation programs have been bothered from their beginning by attempts to locate a sensible rationale for their existence. If they serve a legitimate government function, then why are there not also programs to compensate persons who suffer losses from illness or from any other problems not of their own creation? One answer has been that prudent people ought to buy insurance to protect themselves from such exigencies; but the same might be said of crime victims. Aiding crime victims has a strong political component—sponsors could score points with the electorate—which explains why this particular issue has been singled out for legislative attention.

Programs providing compensation to crime victims owe their origin to the pioneering efforts of Merger Fry, an Englishwoman and a Quaker, who devoted her life to the cause of correctional reform. Fry ridiculed the inadequacy of restitution as a court-ordered method to allay the deprivation suffered by crime victims. For one thing, she pointed out, in many instances the offender is not apprehended or, if caught, is not convicted. Even if there is a conviction, most offenders are too impoverished to pay the cost of the victim's crime-associated expenses. For those offenders who can contribute something, such monies often have to be diverted from support of their families, who then might have to be subsidized by welfare.

Problems with restitution and with tort remedies were highlighted in the sensational O. J. Simpson case. Survivors of the victims—Simpson's former wife's parents and the family of Ronald Goldman, her ill-starred friend—together received a judgment of $8.5 million and were awarded punitive damages of $25 million. But they have obtained very little of that money, though Simpson lives lavishly on the $25,000 per month he receives from a judgment-proof $4.l million pension fund.

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