Why do mitigation work?
I lovely friend of mine asked me the other day: "Why do you get involved in this morbid type of work with murderers?"
Good question. The answer is complex.
First, we need to correct the question asked. I don't find it to be "morbid" work and the work is not necessarily with murderers.
The word morbid comes from the Latin word moribidus meaning sickly or diseased. In addition to morbid meaning diseased, it also means gruesome, grisly, horrible, pathological. The murders that I am involved in understanding are often all of those things, but, that does not make the work I do morbid. I am on a quest for truth and understanding. Yes, the quest does involve morbid events, murders that are anything but pleasant. But the work I do is pristine, clear, wondrous, even beautiful because it is all about justice and fairness. How so?
A significant number of those who are charged with a murder have not ever committed one. A significant number of those who are convicted of a murder have not ever committed one! The criminal justice system is deeply flawed. When I am involved in a murder case I may be working with a murderer, but, I also may be working with an innocent person! My job as a mitigation specialist is not to determine guilt or innocence, that is up to a jury. My job, as part of a team, is to help understand what has happened. The mitigation specialist, along with the lawyers, the private investigators, the forensic specialists, and other crime scene specialists are all working to understand what happened. The District Attorney and his team have concluded that our client committed a murder. The DA's team may be right. However, they might be wrong! Only through thoroughly understanding what happened can we begin to know how and why, if at all, our client is related to the murder.
So, as the mitigation specialist, I talk to the client, I talk to his friends and relatives, to his former employers and teachers, to his neighbors, to anyone that can help shed light on my client's behavior and motivations. If he did do it, then were their any mitigating circumstances, any insights into why he did it that would lead a jury to consider a sentence less than death for the crime?
All of the above helps explain why someone would elect to be involved in working in this field. However, it is only a part of the answer. Other parts of the answer are more personal:
1. I was once locked up in prison. I know what it feels like to have the system come down on you. I know it does so in ways that can be brutal and unjust. That is part of my commitment to this field of study.
2. I want social workers involved in this field of study because we can bring insights that no other profession can. So I am trying to contribute to the body of knowledge in the mitigation field and trying to help establish what the credentials and qualifications should be for those working in the field. This will help to ensure that the work done is quality work. Lives are at stake. Shoddiness can result in irreversible damage.
Some might come to the conclusion that we who work in this field are opposed to the death penalty. Some are, others are not. I for one am not opposed to the death penalty. What I am opposed to is how the poor and minorities are far more likely to be oppressed by the criminal justice system. If we can create a fair and just justice system, then I would not be opposed to the death penalty. We are far away from that goal at this time, therefore, until we have a just justice system, I will resist the death penalty being imposed on those who may be innocent or who may not be getting fair treatment.
So, why do mitigation work? Why get involved with murders and other morbid events? For the same reasons that the police get involved. For the same reasons that anyone gets involved who is trying to make this world a safer, saner, better place for EVERYONE to live in. It comes down to that great spiritual and philosophical principle called the Golden Rule. Do unto others and you would have them do unto you. If I were accused of a murder, I sure would want to have a social worker trained as a mitigation specialist on my side helping to understand what has happened. This benefits everyone!