To the editor,
If you support criminal justice reform then you should vote against Marsy’s Law which appears on the April ballot. Marsy’s Law proposes a Wisconsin constitutional amendment to increase the rights of crime victims. On its face, that sounds like a good idea. However, Wisconsin already has a victims’ rights constitutional amendment as well as legislation that safeguards victims’ rights. The bigger picture here has to do with the direction of our criminal justice system.
What is the connection between Marsy’s law and criminal justice reform? After 25 years of mandatory sentencing laws and “broken windows” policing, our criminal justice system is broken and unfair. People of color and the poor are disproportionately impacted by the current system, leading to mass incarceration, family separations and economic disruption. The Annie E. Casey Foundation and other evidence-based criminal justice researchers have documented positive outcomes for restorative justice and diversion alternatives to conviction and incarceration for low level and nonviolent offenders. These programs provide community interventions and programming to return offenders to law abiding behavior and provide for restitution and input from victims. The goal is to restore the community as a community, of which the victim and defendant are both members.
Marsy’s Law takes a narrow view. It essentially pits victims against defendants and limits the choices of prosecutors and judges, working in the public interest. Marsy’s Law will make it more difficult for judges and prosecutors to create community based interventions. Marsy’s Law also will make it more difficult for judges to craft reasonable restitution orders that take into consideration a defendant’s ability to make restitution, again viewing the community as a whole and working for the interest of the entire community.
If you believe that it is time to move in the direction of accountability with compassion, if you are concerned about mass incarceration, if you want to create opportunities for defendants and victims to move forward with their lives, you should vote against Marsy’s Law.