Remarks on Signing the Victims of Crime Week Proclamation

April 19, 1985

Well, it is a pleasure to welcome you all here today to the White House, if that has not already been done -- Attorney General Meese, Members of the Congress, and our very special guests here.

Since our first days in office the problem of crime has been a major concern of this administration, even while we had to act immediately to deal with the twin crises of a declining economy and a jeopardized national defense. Making our homes and streets safe again remained among our highest priorities. At the time we took office, government was bloated and had taken on responsibilities in areas where it was neither competent nor needed. Yet, at the same time government was failing in its most legitimate and important functions, particularly preserving domestic order and protecting society from those who would prey on the innocent.

In the past few years we've seen a return to the values that are the basis for a free and a just society: the belief that right and wrong matters, that individuals are responsible for their actions, and that punishment must be swift and sure for those who transgress against the rights of their fellow citizens. It was such values and beliefs that guided us when we took office.

In the early years of this administration we launched a massive attack on the illegal drug trade and on the infrastructure of organized crime, achieving a leap in the number of prosecuters and agents who are assigned to these cases, in the number of drug cases filed, and in the number of drug convictions. We appointed judges who understood that the innocent members of society have a right to be protected from criminal offenders. We achieved some of the most significant anticrime legislation in our history, accomplishing desperately needed reforms in parole and sentencing procedures and in a wide variety of other areas, reforms that will make life tougher for career criminals and easier for the law-abiding. Indeed, we need to make life tough for many criminals, as is illustrated in the fact that the median time served for the crime of murder is 5 years, 3 months and for rape, 2 years, 9 months. This is intolerable.

At the local and State level, too, the voice of the people was heard. States passed tough new sentencing requirements; judges or prosecutors who were lax in their duty were held up to public scrutiny, and communities and neighborhoods began a new era of cooperation with law enforcement to protect lives and liberty.

And the outcome of all this is now clear. As you've already heard, crime is down significantly, and for the first time, it's down for 3 successive years -- the first time that has ever happened.

I know there are some who claim this is merely a reflection of demographic trends, that there's less crime now because there are fewer members of our society who are in the crime-prone age group. But a coincidence is not a causation.

For example, during the 1960's crime rose at a much faster rate than did the crime-prone age group. Between the years 1976 and 1981, the number in the crime-prone age group rose by less than 1 percent; yet violent crime rose by over 35 percent. A critical reason for the rise in crime in past years was a failure to administer prompt and sure justice.

During the 1960's the likelihood of being imprisoned if arrested for a serious crime fell by 75 percent. In recent years these figures have turned around. The likelihood of going to prison now is almost twice as high as it was in 1970.

It's a fact that many thousands more career criminals are being imprisoned today than in 1970. That fact must be acknowledged and its meaning understood. It's happening because our criminal justice system is responding to the public outcry over crime. It's happening because we're doing more to protect the innocent and punish the guilty. And that's why, today, our homes, our families, and our societies are safer.

The real explanation then for the decline in crime can be found right where the credit for America's social progress can usually be found -- the resolve of the American people to speak out, to make their voices heard, to demand justice. There's no better example of this resolve than the work of those we honor here today, who have worked with their fellow citizens to bring public attention to the plight of the victims of crime.

I'm proud that this administration led the way in passing new legislation and new programs for the victims of crime. But most of all, I share the pride of all Americans today in honoring those who have, through their work for the victims of crime, turned anguish and fear into constructive action.

I want to salute Theresa Saldana, Carole DeLuca, Caren Robinson, Cecile Laurinitis, Patti Linebaugh, and Sharon Komlos. Each of you rose above the fear and the frustration that all victims of crime must face. You turned terrible moments in your lives into something beneficial and helpful to your fellow Americans. You used your suffering so that others would suffer less. This was a noble thing to do, and for this our nation owes you all a ``thanks.'' On behalf of the American people, I want to extend to each of you our gratitude for your patriotism and your selflessness.

And now, I would like to sign the Victims of Crime Week proclamation.

Note: The President spoke at 1:37 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.