A new scholarship is being offered to students at Utah universities through a law-firm in Salt Lake. What makes this scholarship unique? You have to be accused of or found guilty of a crime to qualify.
“I can’t think of any other scholarship where a qualification is that you’ve been accused of a crime,” said Steve Burton, a criminal defense attorney and an owner at Intermountain Legal.
Burton said Intermountain Legal started the $1,500 scholarship, titled "Casualties of Justice," to help the new victims the justice system might create – the actual perpetrators of the crime.
“So it’s for those who have been accused, arrested for, convicted of, or charged with a crime – or their close family members,” he said.
Burton said criminals and their close family members can be turned into victims themselves through the justice system.
“Just seeing how the imperfections of the system can actually create more victims when the purpose of the system is to try to actually do justice and help victims, sometimes it does the opposite," he said.
While Burton sees the scholarship as helping victims, others disagree.
Alex Merritt is a victim advocate with the Utah Crime Victims Legal Clinic. The clinic gives victims of crime-free victim’s rights attorneys in criminal cases.
“I feel like it’s almost a slap in the face to victims where this defendant who has been found guilty, who has had consequences for his actions, can go play a ‘poor me’ card and get money for what they did,” Merritt said.
Burton said the scholarship recipient will be chosen based on who’s essay provides the best ideas to improve the system – not who’s been wronged by the system most severely.
“Our goal is to try to find ideas to improve the justice system,” Burton said.
This is something Merritt said she can agree with.
“In the sense of the idea is possibly helping someone get back on their feet who was a criminal, I think the idea and concept is positive,” she said.
However, the thought of rewarding perpetrators of crime with a scholarship, Merritt said, can be damaging to the victims of those crimes.
“I believe most victims would not want to support this scholarship," Merritt said. "To say that your perpetrator is going to get financial benefits in school because they hurt you is going to be devastating to a victim.”