Victim Impact Statements
What is a victim impact statement?
A victim impact statement is an opportunity for victims/survivors to share with the California Board of Parole Hearings (Board) – and with the person who caused harm – how the crime affected them and their thoughts and feelings about the crime.
If a victim/survivor chooses to share a statement, they have options in terms of how to do so. When a victim/survivor (or representative or district attorney) shares a victim impact statement at the hearing, the person sharing the statement speaks last at the hearing, before the Panel conducting the hearing adjourns to make its decision. There is generally no limit on how long a victim impact statement can be.
Writing a Victim Impact Statement
Tips for Writing a Victim Impact Statement
- Set aside plenty of time. It is a good idea for victims/survivors to give themselves plenty of time to work on their victim impact statement. It can be an emotional experience to write a statement, so it can be helpful to do it a little at a time, and be able to take breaks. Also, it can be hard to remember all the details a person wants to include. It is a good idea to write the statement, then set it aside for a while, and then come back to it to see if there is anything else a person wants to include.
- Write the statement down. If the victim/survivor wants to share the statement at the hearing, it is helpful for the statement to be written down, so the person can read it, or at least refer to it, during the hearing. It can be difficult to remember everything at the end of an emotional and often stressful hearing.
- It can be helpful to type the statement on a computer. This makes it easier to go back and make changes. Also, it allows a person to format the statement (with large font and spacing) it in a way that will make it easier to read it at the hearing (if the victim/survivor chooses to do that).
What should be included in a victim impact statement?
There is no one-size-fits-all victim impact statement. Each statement is as different as each victim/survivor is.
Most victims/survivors choose to include their position on whether the Panel should, or should not, grant parole. But a victim/survivor can also give a statement that focuses on honoring their loved one or describing how the crime impacted them.
Each victim/survivor should include the information that is important to them. Below are suggestions of what to include:
- Memories that honor the victim of the crime. This is a chance for people involved in the hearing to learn about the person who was harmed or killed, beyond what happened to them during the crime.
- Thoughts about who the victim of the crime would be, or what their life could have been, if not for the crime.
- The victim/survivor’s feelings about the victim of the crime.
- How the victim/survivor’s (and their family’s) life has changed as a result of the crime.
- The emotional impact of the crime on them and their family.
- Any counseling or supportive services needed as a result of the crime.
- The financial impact of the crime.
- Injuries the victim/survivor or family members have suffered.
- Medical treatment they or their loved ones have received or expect to receive.
- Concerns for safety if the incarcerated person is released.
- A request to receive any apology letter written by the incarcerated person or to participate in a victim/offender dialogue with the incarcerated person.
- The victim/survivor’s personal healing journey.
How long should a victim impact statement be?
There is no limit on the length of a victim impact statement. The “word count feature” on any computer word-processing program can help determine how long a statement will be. A good speed for reading a statement is around 150 words per minute – so a 5 minute statement would be about 750 words.
A statement should be a length that feels right to the victim/survivor. Some people will feel best with a shorter statement, while others may feel they need more time – either is fine.
Trino: "I felt deeply respected...but I also understood that the Commissioners are looking at, 'Is this person ready to return to society?'"
Sharing a Victim Impact Statement at the Hearing
How should someone prepare to give a victim impact statement?
It is often easier to read a document typed in larger font and double spaced. Victims/survivors may choose to make multiple copies of the statement so they can provide copies to the Panel conducting the hearing, the district attorney, and even the attorney representing the incarcerated person.
Tips for delivering a statement:
- Write the statement down ahead of time. It can be hard to remember everything with the stress and emotion of a hearing.
- It can be helpful to read the statement aloud or to another person before the hearing. This can help the victim/survivor feel more prepared and less nervous.
- It’s fine to be emotional. It is fine to cry. It is fine to go at your own pace. It is fine to ask for a break when needed.
- If a victim/survivor becomes too emotional during the hearing to deliver the statement as planned, they can have a representative, the district attorney (if present), or the Panel read it for them.
- Remain respectful. The Panel requires all participants to remain respectful during the entire hearing. While it is perfectly understandable that victims/survivors present at the hearing may become upset, it is also important that all participants are respectful and that the hearing be able to proceed. Anyone who becomes disruptive may be asked to leave.
What should I be prepared for?
- While it may feel odd, when delivering a victim impact statement, victims/survivors must address the Panel conducting the hearing, not the incarcerated person. All comments must be directed to the Panel and must remain respectful. This does not mean emotions and feelings cannot be expressed – participants in the parole hearing may become emotional when discussing their loved one or the impact of the crime – but the Panel will be forced to interrupt any participant who becomes aggressive, disruptive, inappropriate, or disrespectful.
- During the hearing, the incarcerated person is not allowed to look at or speak to victims/survivors. This can feel unnatural or unsettling, but the intent of this rule is to protect victims/survivors.
- The transcripts of parole hearings are publicly available. Victim impact statements shared or read at the hearing will be part of a public hearing transcript. The victim/survivor’s full name will be included in the transcript (unless the person is the direct victim of a sexual assault and has requested, in advance, not to use their real name).
Do victims/survivors who attend a hearing have to give a victim impact statement?
No. Victims/survivors who attend a hearing may share a statement, but they can also just listen to the hearing. Also, a victim/survivor can bring a statement to the hearing, and decide during the hearing whether they want to read it or not.
Options for Sharing a Victim Impact Statement
Does a victim/survivor have to attend the hearing to provide a victim impact statement?
No. There are a few options for providing a victim impact statement without being present, or personally delivering it, at the hearing:
- Statements can be read at the hearing by a representative or legal counsel that attends in the victim/survivor’s place. They can also be read by the district attorney (if present).
- Statements can be provided to the Board prior to the hearing and included in the record for the Panel to review and consider. A victim/survivor may include in the statement whether or not they would like the statement to be shared at the hearing.
- Statements may be written, or video or audio recorded (if accompanied by the transcript of the recording).
Also, if a victim/survivor has provided a victim impact statement at a prior parole hearing, that statement will be in the record that the Panel uses to make their decision at the current hearing. If they choose to, victims/survivors can request that a representative or the district attorney (if present) read the previously submitted victim impact statement at the current hearing.
Information about submitting the statement is available here.
What should I be prepared for?
- Any statement submitted prior to the hearing may be shared with the incarcerated person, their attorney, or the district attorney.
- Generally, statements submitted by victims/survivors are reviewed by staff and victim/survivor addresses and any other sensitive information is redacted before the statement is shared with hearing participants or made part of the record.
Does a victim/survivor have to give a victim impact statement?
No. For some victims/survivors, the healthiest choice they can make for themself is to not participate in the hearing or submit a statement for the Board’s consideration.
How the Board Considers Victim Impact Statements
Victim impact statements are impactful for everyone involved in the hearing.
Victim impact statements can also be uniquely impactful to the incarcerated person. The opportunity to hear from victims/survivors (sometimes for the first time in decades) helps incarcerated people better understand the full impact of their actions. Many incarcerated people share that, although painful, hearing the statements of victims/survivors at the hearing was a critical turning point in their lives, that it guided their efforts, and that it deepened their commitment to accountability, empathy, and amends. Some share that hearing the victim impact statement was the single most impactful experience that motivated them to do the hard work of change and rehabilitation.
Also, regardless of whether or not an impact statement will change the outcome of the hearing, the lives and experiences of the people who were harmed by the crime deserve to be honored and recognized – formally and officially – by ensuring space is provided for victims/survivors to make statements if they choose to.
However, the law limits how victim/survivor impact statements can impact the Panel’s legal determination of parole suitability. Panels must consider the safety of the victim, the victim’s family, and the general public. But a victim/survivor’s personal experience, feelings, or position on the incarcerated person’s parole, on their own, often do not shed light on the legal question the Board must answer: whether the incarcerated person currently poses a danger to the community. More information on how the Board makes parole decisions is available here.
Understandably, it can be very difficult for victims/survivors to share the lifelong impact the crime has had on them, and then have the incarcerated person be found suitable for parole. This result can leave a victim/survivor feeling like their experience does not matter. Victims/survivors deserve to have full, accurate information, and to understand the legal requirements of a hearing, so they can make a decision for themselves if and how they want to participate. More information on resources and support available to victims/survivors is available here.
Commissioner Sharrieff: “We want the individual who is incarcerated to also hear how their crimes impacted you…”
Commissioner Barton: "The nature of the crime that someone commits does not necessarily determine whether or not they'll be released..."