How Many In Kentucky Are Misinformed?
Imagine: Your brother was murdered by a group of individuals a handful of years ago in a small, rural Kentucky county. You stumbled your way through the criminal justice process until, finally, a great victim’s advocate stepped in and helped guide you through the process. But now, years later, you’ve been told that one of the convicted criminals is up for parole. You’ve been down this road before and know what you need to do, so you set to work requesting the paperwork needed to prepare a victim impact statement and call the prison to let them know you’ll be speaking in order to keep this dangerous man in prison. What you’re told shocks you…”We can’t allow you to come, all of the available spots are taken by his family.”
Thankfully, the victim in this story was system-savvy enough after going through four murder trials to know that the information she received was incorrect and she reached out to advocate agencies for help. She has since been connected with advocates within the criminal justice system and we are hopeful that this particular problem will be solved and she will be permitted to attend and speak at her brother’s killer’s parole hearing.
But this is one instance. As I heard this woman’s story, I wondered how many other times this has occurred. What happens to the victim who is too tired, too new to the system, too emotionally drained or just doesn’t think to reach out to advocates for help? The victim who accepts the prison’s rejection of their presence and voice in the parole hearing?
Kentucky law (KRS 439.340(5) & (6)) currently provides that victims shall be notified of a parole hearing and may submit comments, in person or in writing, to the board. Of course, in order to submit comments in person, a victim has to be permitted to attend.
We know that there are phenomenal people in the criminal justice system at every level who care deeply about victims. And we value those people so incredibly much. But we also recognize that there are holes and weaknesses in the system that allow systemic revictimization like this to occur.
Marsy’s Law will give teeth to victims’ rights and ensure that victims are provided the opportunity to be present and heard during critical points of the criminal justice process.