Compensation for Victims of Crime

September 22, 1965

Report Outline
Plans for Compensating Crime Victims
Historical Roots of Compensation Idea
Present Limited Means of Compensation
Special Focus

Plans for Compensating Crime Victims

The Victim of violent crime is modern society's forgotten man. Although the state makes every effort to apprehend, punish and reform the criminal, it does nothing to repair the damage inflicted upon his victim. A Belgian penologist, Adolphe Prins, sarcastically summed up contemporary criminal procedure 70 years ago: “The guilty man—lodged, fed, clothed, warmed…entertained at the expense of the state in a model cell—issues from it with a sum of money lawfully earned; he has paid his debt to society; he can set his victims at defiance; but the victim has this consolation, he can think that by the taxes he pays the treasury, he has contributed towards the paternal care which has guarded the criminal during his stay in prison.”

Now, a number of jurists and lawmakers in this country and abroad are suggesting that society compensate the victim as well as punish and seek to rehabilitate the criminal. The rationale for compensation rests on the implied governmental pledge of protection against crime; local and state authorities maintain police forces, and carrying of concealed weapons for self-defense, without a permit, is generally forbidden. Thus, when a crime is committed, government may be said to be partly responsible. Arthur J. Goldberg, then a Supreme Court justice, endorsed this proposition last year when he remarked that “The victim of a robbery or an assault has been denied the ‘protection’ of the laws in a very real sense, and society should assume some responsibility for making him whole.”

Mounting Rates of Crime in United States

Concern for the victim of crime has been growing in direct proportion to the mounting number of victims. The most recent annual compilation of crime statistics issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation showed that more than 2.6 million serious crimes were reported in the United States in 1964—a 13 per cent increase over the 1963 total. Since 1958, the number of crimes has risen by 58 per cent while population has grown by only 10 per cent. The crime rate in 1964—that is, the number of crimes per 100,000 Americans—was 1,361.2. The F.B.I, points out that “A crime rate, for all practical purposes, is a victim risk rate,” for “It must be kept in mind that these crime counts do not represent the number of criminals but, more accurately, the number of victims.”

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