An Examination of the Effects of Victim-Related Contextual Factors on the Criminal Justice System

Open Access
Author:
Haynes, Stacy Hoskins
Graduate Program:
Crime, Law and Justice
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
June 20, 2008
Committee Members:
  • Richard Barry Ruback, Committee Chair
  • John Henry Kramer, Committee Member
  • Eric Silver, Committee Member
  • Melvin Michael Mark, Committee Member
Keywords:
  • victims
  • sentencing
  • contextual effects
  • justice
Abstract:
The report of the President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime (1982), which outlined 68 recommendations designed to integrate the needs and concerns of victims into the criminal justice system, led to numerous reforms at both the federal and state levels of government. However, many scholars and victim advocates have argued that these reforms were merely symbolic, in that they have not produced any meaningful change in the treatment of crime victims by the criminal justice system. To investigate this claim, I examined how the implementation of victim reforms has affected criminal justice outcomes across the state of Pennsylvania. I started by examining how community contextual factors (i.e., characteristics of the economic, political, and social contexts) affected three types of victim-related contextual factors likely influenced by the implementation of victim reforms: the availability of victim resources, county-level indicators of justice, and victim participation in the criminal justice system. Specifically, I analyzed how community contextual factors affected the availability of victim resources and county-level indicators of four types of justice – distributive justice, procedural justice, interpersonal justice, and informational justice – and, in turn, how these factors affected victim participation in the criminal justice system. I then examined how community contextual factors and victim-related contextual factors combined to influence sentencing outcomes. Chapter 1 describes the rise of the victims’ rights movement and discusses three types of victim reforms: victim compensation, victim service programs, and victim participation in the criminal justice system. These reforms focused, respectively, on improving victims’ economic situation through programs for compensation from the state and for restitution from the offender, providing psychological counseling and addressing victims’ need for better treatment and more information, and integrating victims into the criminal justice process, such as by consulting the victim during plea bargaining and allowing victim input during sentencing. Chapter 2 discusses some of the arguments that have been made regarding the impact of victim reforms on the criminal justice system. Because contextual factors likely affect the implementation and subsequent impact of victim reforms, I describe the effects of both community contextual factors and victim-related contextual factors on the criminal justice system. To explain the relationships among community contextual factors, victim-related contextual factors, and sentencing outcomes, I draw on theory and research on justice. Although social and organizational psychologists generally discuss justice at an interpersonal level, most other disciplines think about justice at a societal level. As a result, I discuss why aggregate-level measures of justice are necessary for examining the effects of victim reforms on the criminal justice system. Chapter 3 describes the current study, including the hypotheses that were tested and the theoretical model that guided this research. The data for this study consisted primarily of sentencing information from the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing for the years 1990-1994 and 1996-2006 and contextual information from the U.S. Census, the Uniform Crime Reports, and the Pennsylvania Office of Victims’ Services. I conducted separate analyses for the years 1990-1994 and 1996-2006. Chapter 4 describes the results from the years 1996-2006 and Chapter 5 describes the results from the years 1990-1994. I discuss the results in this order because more information about victim-related contextual factors was available for the later years. The results showed that the availability of victim resources, distributive justice, and the imposition of restitution increased over time. Furthermore, victim resources and county-level indicators of justice affected victim participation in the criminal justice system and sentencing outcomes. Chapter 6 concludes by summarizing the findings and the results of the hypothesis tests. I also discuss implications for theory and policy, as well as directions for future research. In sum, the findings from this dissertation suggest that the implementation of victim reforms has had an effect on the criminal justice system, both directly, as evidenced by the fact that there have been increases in the availability of victim resources, distributive justice, and the imposition of restitution, and indirectly, as evidenced by the fact that resources and justice affected victim participation in the criminal justice system and sentencing outcomes. It remains to be seen, however, whether these changes have actually improved the treatment of crime victims by the criminal justice system and whether greater justice for victims means less justice for offenders.