Singer/songwriter John Legend joined law enforcement and elected officials as special guests at California’s largest event for crime survivors this week in Sacramento.

Held during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, Survivors Speak is an annual conference and (new) gathering at the State Capitol hosted by Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a network of 6,000 survivors from high-crime communities in California. (The network and conference are organized by Californians for Safety and Justice, a nonprofit project of the Tides Center working to replace criminal justice system waste with policies that create safe neighborhoods and save public dollars.)

Survivors Speak: Building Pathways from Trauma to Healing includes 450+ attendees from throughout California, particularly from communities most affected by crime. A goal of the conference and Capitol gathering is to ensure that leaders take into account the needs and perspectives of those most commonly victimized but who may not be heard in policymaking. This focus is one reason Oscar-, Golden Globe- and nine-time-Grammy winner singer/songwriter John Legend made a special visit to the conference to address the attendees.

“The new crime survivor movement in California is inspiring not only because of the support it can bring to victims but also the change these new voices can bring to a misguided criminal justice system,” said Legend, who recently launched #FREE AMERICA, a multi-year campaign dedicated to amplifying the growing movement to end our nation’s overreliance on incarceration. “By listening to the voices of those victimized by crime most frequently in our society, we are learning that decades of criminal justice policies created in their name do not reflect what they want or need.”

In fact, a survey of California crime survivors in 2013 by David Binder Research found that victims of violent crime are more likely to be low-income, young (especially under 30), and Latino or African American. Three in four victims believe that prisons either make inmates better at committing crimes or have no impact at all, and they preferred a focus on supervised probation and rehabilitation by a two-to-one margin over prisons and jails, and investments in mental health and drug treatment by a three-to-one margin over incarceration. (Read about these and other findings in this report.)

Crime survivors shared these views as speakers throughout the conference, which also included special guest speakers such as California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom.

“As Lt. Governor of California and a former mayor of a big city, I have seen the terrible toll crime takes on California’s diverse communities,” said California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, who addressed the conference attendees. “What motivates me is hearing the voices of those most often impacted by crime as they seek new pathways toward community safety. What you’re doing today – elevating your experiences to improve public policy – could not be more important.”

Santa Clara District Attorney, Jeff Rosen, addressed the conference during the lunch plenary, underscoring the important partnerships required between crime survivors and law enforcement.

“Law enforcement and crime survivors share the same goal: We want smart justice policies in place that protect our communities, especially those most vulnerable to crime and violence,” said Rosen. “To turn these shared goals into action, law enforcement and other community leaders must engage with the people who most often experience crime. That will help to put survivors at the center of our policies and practices, and that is what is so special about today’s event.”

Tomorrow, law enforcement officials will also join conference attendees at a new event on the State Capitol lawn. “Remember, Recover, Reform” will provide a chance for attendees to honor lost or victimized loved ones, hear from speakers and call on lawmakers to replace ineffective criminal justice policies with new investments in trauma recovery and crime prevention.

“We are finding that survivors prioritize recovery, rehabilitation and prevention, not more of the failed policies of the past,” said Lenore Anderson, Executive Director of Californians for Safety and Justice. “If we ignore the experiences and perspectives of those most often affected by crime, not only will we live in an unjust society but also one that is profoundly unsafe.”

One such perspective is that of David Guizar, a Los Angeles member of Crime Survivors of Safety and Justice who attended the conference. Guizar has lost two brothers to homicides and saw and felt first hand the ripple effects of those traumatic experiences on his life and his family.

“After our family’s losses, we never heard about existing supports for survivors of crime, which would have made a big difference in our ability to recover,” said Guizar. “California clearly has the money – the state spends $10 billion per year on a prison system to respond to crime – but I and other survivors want lawmakers to know that we can invest these resources in smarter ways to help survivors both recover from and prevent crime.”

For more on the conference, click here.

Source: PR Newswire

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