The U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime designated April 18-24, 2021 as National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. Thanks to Representative Stephanie Hilferty, whose leadership saw the passage of HR 17 this week, Louisiana will also recognize this time as Crime Victims’ Rights Week.

The rights of victims has always been, and always will be, top of mind in my criminal justice work.

In 2018, I turned in my shiny, boot-shaped badge for a suit and a sophisticated bowtie. While “sophisticated” may be a stretch, I transitioned from a law enforcement officer to a criminal justice advocate. I have found my experience as an officer to be invaluable in my work as an advocate. As an officer, I engaged the individuals on my caseload, other law enforcement officers, attorneys, judges, family members, victims, and the public as part of my job. It was a dual role, as I was also responsible for helping the men and women on my caseload reenter society.

After high school, I chose to pursue criminal justice for my undergraduate studies, and then chose a career in law enforcement as a probation and parole officer. A few years ago, I chose to transition to a career as a criminal justice advocate with Right on Crime. My past experiences with the criminal justice system have given me a unique perspective on the need for criminal justice reform with a primary focus on public safety—and critically—restoring victims.

The rights of victims is now personal to me.

Unfortunately, I have an experience with the criminal justice system that I did not choose. In 2018, one of my children was a victim of a serious crime. A crime that carried a ripple effect to every member of my immediate and extended family. My family’s experience is one shared with far too many people in Louisiana and across our nation.

Even with my background in the criminal justice system navigating the criminal justice system as a victim of crime was still frightening at times, but also an all-around frustrating and confusing experience for our family. I will also remember the anxiety of waiting for an arrest. I still feel the frustration and anger from receiving notice that the person who caused my family harm posted bail. Each step in the criminal justice process brought with it a new emotion. There was a sense of relief and finality at the sentencing hearing, but this was to be short lived because then the appeal process started. Of all the emotions my family and I have experienced during this process, joy was not one of them. Last week, as I prepared for the upcoming legislative session, I received a call informing me of an upcoming parole hearing for the man who caused my family so much pain. However, it is through the lens of these experiences that I move forward to advocate for conservative, criminal justice reform. Why? Because I believe these reforms are effective in addressing crime, and ultimately, reduces the number of crime victims.

It would have been almost impossible to navigate the criminal justice system without help from our family, friends, and from those within the criminal justice system. I developed a newfound appreciation for the rights of victims are codified in statute R.S. 46:1844.  My district attorney, sheriff, the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement, and the Department of Corrections all provided my family the necessary information and notifications regarding the criminal case, even post-conviction.

Several people have asked how I continue to advocate for criminal justice reform considering what happened in my own family. To be honest, I have pondered the question myself. It is difficult at times, however, I know there is more work to be done to restore victims, to create a safe Louisiana, and to ensure a pathway for hope and redemption for everyone involved in the criminal justice system. Reforms that are grounded in the time-tested conservative truths—constitutionally limited government, transparency, individual liberty, personal responsibility, free enterprise, and centrality of the family and community lead to safer communities and fewer victims.