Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



The concept of deterrence is one of the most important in the formulations of the victim advocate, primarily because of two essential premises that underlie the entire field of victim advocacy.The first, but not necessarily the most important, of these premises concerns the policy that favors assuaging the plight of persons after they have been victimized. This relief can be provided in a number of different ways: compensation to innocent victims from the states; restitution to victims as a condition of granting probation to the criminal; victim counselling; and victim/witness assistance programs.' The second premise of victim advocacy, namely,preventing victimization from ever occurring, is also of critical importance because, obviously, in each instance in which a given act of victimization is prevented, the palliative measures described above will not be necessary.

This preventive goal can be effectuated through two types of activity. First, victim advocates often engage in activity that encourages and assists the potential victim of crime to help himself in programs such as neighborhood watch, inscription of identifying serial numbers on personal property, and other citizen crime prevention programs. The second type of activity, with which this Article primarily deals, entails efforts by victim advocates to structure the system to deter would-be criminals from engaging in acts of victimization. It also requires efforts to deter third parties--for example, parole officials, whose duties include making decisions that may place dangerous criminals in a position to victimize again--from acting to the detriment of potential victims. In sum, the notion of deterrence has assumed critical dimensions in the area of victim advocacy and assistance.

Part II of this Article deals with deterrence generally as a common sense concept and emphasizes the potential impact that different attitudes to-ward this concept have on crime victims. Part III then focuses on particular aspects of deterrence in the capital punishment controversy-again by emphasizing the effect on victims. The final part of the Article explores a rather new area of the law that applies the concept of deterrence-by threatening civil liability for gross negligence in the handling and release of prisoners--to third party custodial officials in an attempt to prevent future victimization. The Article concludes that a common sense approach to the question of deterrence, rather than one which is based on delaying any decision until all the empirical evidence is compiled, is necessary to combat the serious crime problem that now faces the country.