The Case for Victim Justice

For elected officials eager to find a real problem to fix, here’s a big one that’s seldom mentioned during campaign season: American courts and prisons are plagued with injustices and inefficiencies. One of the main culprits, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Bruce L. Benson, is their guiding principle: an emphasis on offenses against the state, instead of infringements against an individual’s right to be secure in his or her person and property. Americans would therefore enjoy more justice at less cost if victims’ rights to restitution were moved for the forefront.

Benson puts forth this bold thesis in his recent article in The Independent Review, “Let’s Focus on Victim Justice, Not Criminal Justice”, and he defends this claim with the same rigor and erudition that made his books The Enterprise of Law and To Serve and Protect landmark contributions to the literature on private law enforcement and dispute resolution.

Focusing on “victim justice” would be easier to achieve, Benson also argues, if society were to embrace the full-scale privatization (not government “contracting out”) of security services, investigations, pursuit, prosecution, adjudication, and sentencing. “The result would be relatively efficient compared to punishment by imprisonment, which imposes huge costs on taxpayers and wastes large amounts of resources in the form of idle prisoners’ time,” Benson writes.

Moreover, privatizing each step—from crime prevention to restitution collection—would likely reduce crime. First, victims would have stronger incentives to report offenses, knowing that their chances of collecting full restitution were greatly improved. Second, recidivism would likely decline because some offenders needing to work off their debts would learn job skills that are in greater demand than those promoted in today’s prisons.


Audio: Bruce Benson on Crime in the U.S. (The Katherine Albrech Show, 10/23/14)

Prison Break: A New Approach to Public Cost and Safety, by Erwin A. Blackstone and Simon Hakim (Independent Policy Report, 6/30/14)

[A version of this post first appeared in the November 11, 2014, issue of The Lighthouse. For a free subscription to this weekly newsletter of analysis and announcements from the Independent Institute, enter your email address here.]

Carl Close is Research Fellow and Senior Editor for The Independent Institute and Assistant Editor of The Independent Review and editor of The Lighthouse, The Independent Institute’s weekly e-mail newsletter.
Full Biography and Recent Publications
Beacon Posts by Carl Close
  • Catalyst