America’s aging population, particularly the growth in the number of people over the age of 75, presents unique challenges for the criminal justice system. These include detecting and prosecuting crimes that result from abuse and neglect, deterring an ever-changing variety of frauds and scams aimed at vulnerable older people, and fostering partnerships with an array of public, private, and nonprofit agencies and organizations designed to make communities safer for older people living in all types of settings.
Fraud—although violent crime receives the most attention, fraud is an increasingly serious crime, and older people are often its target.
In 2015, just over half of consumer complaints to the Consumer Sentinel Network—an online database available for law enforcement—involved fraud and ID theft, with losses totaling $765 million. Thirty-seven percent of fraud complaints were from people over the age of 60 and 57 percent from people over the age of 50.
Fraud and Criminal Justice: Policy
Assisting crime victims
States should establish and improve victim information systems.
States should require consideration of victim impact statements (oral or written) at critical proceedings such as hearings on bail, charging, sentencing, and parole. These statements should contain information concerning any harm to the victim (financial, social, psychological, and physical), as well as information concerning restitution needs.
States should review criminal codes and procedures for court scheduling, sentencing, and parole to ensure appropriate opportunities for victim participation and consideration of the consequences of violent crimes against vulnerable victims and their special needs.
States should sufficiently fund state victim compensation programs, provide expedited compensation in emergencies, and consider the victim’s age and physical health in deciding on such payments.
States should develop assistance programs for victims of serious crime. Programs to serve victims may be implemented by bills of rights, laws, or constitutional amendments that require certain minimum services and rights for all victims of serious crime.
Services to crime victims should include:
- counseling referrals and related services to help victims cope with the tragedy of the crime;
- information about how the criminal justice system works, including the roles, rights, and obligations of victims, witnesses, and defense and trial counsels;
- court accompaniment and support during trials for those severely traumatized by the crime;
- transportation to court and other proceedings for older adult victims and witnesses and victims and witnesses with disabilities, as required by their particular circumstances;
- training of hospital staff in collecting and preserving crime evidence and the special needs of vulnerable victims;
- intercession with employers and creditors, if required;
- information on major case developments and decisions at all critical proceedings, as well as information on the offender’s status from arrest through release (including the minimum time that those convicted must serve if sentenced to incarceration);
- advance notice of court appearance dates, scheduling changes, and continuances;
- protections for victims who are threatened or subjected to intimidation; and
- expeditious return of property when no longer needed as evidence.
Preventing violent crime
The federal government should foster and fund partnerships designed to make communities safer for residents living in a variety of settings, particularly those who live alone or are isolated.
The federal government should assist states and local agencies in improving data collection and coordination, increasing older people’s participation in crime prevention programs, and educating law enforcement officials about the special needs of older people—especially people of racial and ethnic groups that have experienced discrimination and people with disabilities—for protection and support after victimization.
Congress should eliminate gaps in and strengthen enforcement of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and other federal gun laws.
States should enact legislation to eliminate gaps in and strengthen enforcement of federal and state gun laws, particularly with regard to possession by juveniles, convicted domestic abusers, and those under domestic violence restraining orders.
States should improve training opportunities for law enforcement personnel and adult protective services providers, particularly on ways to deal with older victims, techniques to assist victims who are cognitively impaired or in poor physical health, and the prevention of crimes most frequently committed against this segment of the population.