Urban Wire Improving Accountability to Victims through State Justice Reinvestment
Colette Marcellin, Andreea Matei
Display Date

Woman stands in front of window

Each year, millions of people across the United States are victims of crime. Victims offer a critical perspective in criminal justice reform efforts but are often overlooked or assumed to be opposed to reform. In fact, many victims support a variety of justice system improvements, including expanding opportunities for rehabilitation and investing in education rather than just incarceration.

People of color, young people, and people living in low-income communities are disproportionately affected by crime and deserve an especially strong voice in these conversations. Research also shows many people who have committed crimes have been victims of crime themselves. Ensuring all victims have the opportunity to share their experiences and preferences is critical to improving the justice system.

Several states have taken steps to improve accountability to victims through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI). With technical assistance funded by the initiative, states examine factors driving their corrections and supervision populations and costs, develop and implement policies to address these drivers, and use anticipated or actualized savings from the JRI process to invest in strategies to improve their justice systems.

Engaging victims, advocates, and service providers in policymaking

Our brief describes how states engaged in JRI have used its consensus-based approach to engage victims in the policy development process. Many states have formally included victims, victim advocates, and service providers in their JRI work group, a team of policymakers and other stakeholders tasked with developing policy recommendations to present to state legislatures.

Most workgroups have held roundtables with victims, advocates, and service providers to learn about their priorities and share takeaways with their state’s task forces to inform policy development. Through these initial steps in the JRI process, states have worked directly with victims, advocates, and service providers.

Implementing policies to improve accountability to victims

How are states participating in JRI improving accountability to victims? Some strategies include:

Continuing to address gaps in victim services

Despite progress, states could consider several policies and practices to better address victims’ diverse needs:

  • Periodically conducting needs assessments to accurately capture victimization trends and assess the effectiveness of and gaps in victim service funding.
  • Offering a wider range of victim services, including recovery, healing, and restorative justice.
  • Targeting services and funds to victims who face the greatest barriers to access and are disproportionately affected by crime.
  • Reducing the many barriers to restitution and compensation for victims who do not report the crime within a certain time period or at all, victims for whom restitution is not requested or awarded, and, in some states, victims who have committed crimes themselves

Improving accountability to victims makes the justice system more equitable and fair. Whether states are engaging in or considering JRI or are pursuing other justice system improvement and reinvestment efforts, victims, advocates, and service providers deserve a voice—one that is not only heard but also translated into substantive policy changes that address all victims’ needs.

To achieve justice, decisionmakers must work to mitigate the harms victims experience, help them recover and heal, and prevent future harm. This begins with meaningful reform.

Although people who have experienced crime and their advocates are often referred to as “victims” and “victim advocates,” respectively, we recognize that some prefer the term “survivor” because they find it more empowering and reflective of recovery and healing. We also recognize that victim advocates may be victims and survivors as well as advocates. Though we use “victim” here, we respect the preferences of people who identify as victims or survivors of crime.


This project was supported by Grant No. 2019-ZB-BX-K004, awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the SMART Office. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.


Tune in and subscribe today.

The Urban Institute podcast, Evidence in Action, inspires changemakers to lead with evidence and act with equity. Co-hosted by Urban President Sarah Rosen Wartell and Executive Vice President Kimberlyn Leary, every episode features in-depth discussions with experts and leaders on topics ranging from how to advance equity, to designing innovative solutions that achieve community impact, to what it means to practice evidence-based leadership.


Research Areas Crime, justice, and safety
Tags Victims of crime Trauma-informed approaches Mental health
Policy Centers Justice Policy Center