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Corrections workers are not immume from effects of crime.

In 1978 Steven Baker was a patrolman with the San Diego Police Department. He was experienced in handling victims of crime--it was all just part of his job.

In one brief moment, however, his role changed. Baker became involved in the capture of a bank robber hiding in a garage. After completing the day's paperwork, he returned home to his family. A short time later, he was told that the man he had apprehended had murdered his son before the robbery. The motive for the killing: to steal the getaway car. Steven Baker became a victim of violent crime. The man who murdered his son was Robert Alton Harris, who would become the first person executed in California since 1967.

The case focused public attention on a common scenario in this country. Although the circumstances are not always as compelling as in the Harris case, police and correctional officers regularly become primary and secondary victims of crime, the same as the public they work to protect.

Unlike the public, however, police and correctional officers are often expected to react differently because they work in a "tough" profession. Despite their feelings of anger, fear, frustration, confusion, guilt or grief, they are expected to continue with business as usual. It sometimes seems that they are expected to be immune to the effects of traumatic incidents because of their profession.

Staff can become victims of crime both on and off the job. On the job, staff can be assaulted or held hostage, or witness the serious injury or death of another person. Although they are expected to maintain a detached professionalism, staff cannot always divorce themselves from their personal feelings and reactions to a traumatic event. While they may put on a professional facade for superiors and coworkers, staff who have been involved in traumatic incidents must deal with the same feelings and reactions members of the public experience after traumatic events.

Off the job, staff can become victims of crime directly or through the victimization of their family or friends. In addition to feelings of fear, anger and confusion, law enforcement and correctional officers can feel frustration and guilt about not being able to adequately protect themselves or their loved ones from crime. A feeling of inadequacy can develop because the individual faces the paradox of being trained and experienced as a police or correctional officer, yet being unable to prevent the victimization of loved ones on a 24-hour basis.

Victims rights advocates have focused on the need to support victims of crime emotionally, financially and socially. Victims need to express their feelings in a supportive environment and tell their stories to an empathetic person. Feelings of helplessness and lack of control can follow a victimization incident. Part of the healing process is for victims of crime to regain a sense of control over their lives. Exploring feelings and responses to victimization over time can help victims regain their sense of personal control.

Victimization incidents that result in serious injuries or death often require financial support to enable the victims to recover from the incident. Financial support can take many forms, from providing funds to pay extraordinary expenses to allowing personal time off to providing counseling benefits. Severe victimization incidents have the potential to adversely affect the financial status of a family for years. Crime victims often face loss of wages or even careers, large medical expenses and the costs of special care or assistance during the recovery period.

The need for counseling and support also can be expensive, not only to pay the counselor or psychologist, but in losses incurred through relocation away from the scene of the crime or a career change. Family relationships also can be strained, leading to divorce or breakup of relationships.

Victim Perceptions

At one point it seemed society actually blamed the victim for inducing the criminal to strike. A common public service announcement on late-night television in the 1960s and '70s would admonish viewers to "Lock your car. Take your keys. Don't help a good boy go bad."

Although broadcasters probably believed they were doing the public a favor, the impact on crime victims was enormous. Not only were victims left virtually alone to deal with their feelings, they also were being blamed for inducing their attackers to violate their personal security zone. Victims found themselves being held responsible for another person's criminal record, his public embarrassment, the inconvenience to his family and friends, and the escalating costs of police, courts and prisons. Similar ads and television programs implied that careless homeowners were responsible for burglaries and that rape victims invited their attack by failing to adequately protect themselves.

In pre-industrial times, a crime victim generally was responsible for prosecuting his own case. The judicial process was simplistic in nature and the aggrieved person was usually free to suspend the process by withdrawing the complaint at any point where he or she felt justice had been served. Under this system, victims were granted an opportunity to regain control of the situation and work through their feelings in a constructive manner.

In the early industrial period, however, the focus of the judicial process changed. Although crime victims were permitted to be spectators in the criminal justice process, few opportunities for meaningful participation existed. In 1826 the U.S. Supreme Court defined the victim's role in the process in United States v. Ortega by ruling that in a criminal prosecution only the government and defendant--not the victim of the crime--were persons affected by the case.

Society's attitudes toward victims are beginning to change. Recent initiatives are focusing on the need for victims to participate directly in the judicial process as a means of accelerating their recovery. In 1991, the Supreme Court ruled that victim impact statements were admissible in the penalty phase of a criminal trial. The impact of the crime on victims can now be considered when passing sentence on the convicted offender.

Employers also are beginning to recognize the need for employees who have been victimized to attend court proceedings as one means of achieving a sense of closure. Paroling agencies are considering victims' testimony as part of their deliberations. Victim-offender reconciliation programs are being tried as a means of helping victims express their feelings to offenders in hopes of helping both. One judge has even resorted to "reverse burglary" as a means of helping crime victims regain a sense of control. This practice involves several visits by a victim to the home of the convicted offender to "take" some of the burglar's possessions.

Helping Co-workers

As professionals, there are several ways we can help co-workers who have experienced traumatic incidents. Just providing an empathetic ear provides a co-worker with a means of expressing and validating feelings in a non-judgmental environment. Being a friend rather than a therapist (unless you are trained as a therapist) provides an important opportunity for victims to air their feelings and retell their stories.

We should avoid telling victimized co-workers to be tough because "it's just part of the job." Being supportive and letting the person know you are available to be a friend without violating the individual's privacy can provide much-needed support. Police and corrections officers experience the same physiological, emotional and psychological responses to traumatic episodes as other people, and they look for the same level of support from coworkers, family and friends.

Although respect for privacy is important to crime victims, there are times when professional crisis intervention is needed. Changes in behavior are to be expected following a traumatic incident, but radical changes in personality or behavior can signal a reaction that can ultimately be career- or life-threatening, especially when the changes are prolonged and indicate a deteriorating pattern of behavior. In these instances, seeking professional help for the individual is an important component in treating post-trauma stress.

We should all help provide a supportive peer network for fellow workers who have been victimized by traumatic incidents. In addition, we should encourage agency development of victim assistance programs for staff. The bottom line is that staff can be affected by crime and traumatic events just like anyone else.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Andring, Ron
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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