Alice Rolli, Guest Columnist
“So I run with purpose in every step.” 1 Corinthians
In this purpose-filled journey to serve as Nashville’s next Mayor, I have had the opportunity to listen, and learn from victims of violent crime across our city. April 23-29 commemorates National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and an important time to reflect on the voices of victims.
I am grateful for the brave victims who have shared their stories, and to groups like the Tennessee Voices for Victims – who advocate for, and walk alongside, victims of crime.
What I have learned is the importance of approaching crime and justice from a victim centered perspective. And you will hear me talk a lot – from the first debate March 7 to Election Day August 3rd – about reframing our criminal justice system to a victims’ justice system.
Victims desire two things; to never have anyone else experience what they have experienced, and to gain an assurance that the person who committed the crime won’t reoffend.
Today, according to FBI data, two-thirds of cases reported in Nashville are never cleared. That creates a situation where criminals become more emboldened and victims feel helpless.
A victims’ justice system ensures we have enough officers to respond to crime. Today it is widely reported that MNPD is short 200 officers, which means our extraordinary police are stretched thin.
Benchmarking our force strength of 1.96 per thousand population vs. the national average of 2.3 per 1,000 population calls the question – is filling those vacancies enough?
In reframing our work from a criminal justice system to a victims’ justice system, we need to increase our support and funding for the specialized units that focus on specific victimization such as domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault and cold cases.
Support jails and show results
A victims’ justice system supports jails with adequate and thorough programming. Sometimes incarceration is needed particularly in cases with frequent and repeat offenses. A time-out can be effective if programming towards improving literacy, education, addiction, victim impact, and job training is provided. It is imperative that all of our correctional facilities return to the pre-COVID practices of allowing in-person programming – particularly on topics like victim impact.
A victims’ justice system supports and funds victim advocates. We have two well-regarded victim counseling units within our MNPD – but they run a consistent waiting list and need more support. Our district attorney’s office includes victim witness coordinators – a role that is vital to supporting victims through the system. Many non-profits such as the Family Safety Center, Children’s Alliance, Our Kids and others help close some of the gaps.
A victims’ justice system supports programs showing results – like the juvenile restorative justice program run by the Raphah Institute and programs like Men of Valor, The Next Door, Magdalene House and others with long track records of changing lives of the offender – and breaking the cycle of future victimization. More beds at these facilities will reduce the number of victims of crime.
Specialty courts offer tremendous support
A victims’ justice system supports specialized courts – like the mental health and veterans court of Judge Melissa Blackburn and her dedicated team. These intensive programs are changing lives and reducing the number of victims of crime in our city.
In this broken world, let us ask what we are doing, every day, to reduce the number of victims of crime across our city – from literacy to mental health support to investing in our public safety.
Let us renew our focus to center on the rights of victims.
Alice Rolli is a Nashville native, mother, business leader and former Tennessee State Economic Development official for Gov. Bill Haslam. She is running to serve as the Metro Nashville-Davidson County Government’s 10th Mayor to usher in a new era of regional cooperation to address our challenges of growth.