Students in Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Dr. Judith Harris’, victimology class had the opportunity to attend a guest lecture by University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) alum Andy Kahan.
Kahan has worked as both a parole and probation officer before becoming the first victim advocate in the country to work in a mayor’s office. Some of his responsibilities included working with local crime victims’ rights organizations to facilitate the pooling of resources and the exchange of information. He received a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from UHD in 1983.
He also accompanied victims to court and put crime victims in communication with local crime victims support and advocacy groups. In addition, Kahn accompanied and represented victims before the parole board. Recently, he retired from the City of Houston Mayor’s Office, but has continued his work as a victim advocate, now working at Crime Stoppers of Houston.
In his presentation, Kahan discussed how being passionate about his work contributed to the development of more than 25 crime victim-related legislative bills. He provided an overview of many high-profile cases; many of which would have been lost in the system without the help of a victim advocate.
Kahan’s work has been influential in changing criminal justice system in many ways for victims. For example, Kahan authored a pivotal bill in 1996 that made it possible for victims’ families to be able to witness the execution of an offender. In addition, he was instrumental in the 2001 national campaign to prevent convicted criminals and their agents from profiting from the sale of ‘murderabilia,’ which refers to items associated with a particular crime, criminal, or victim that are sold for profit. As a result, several states enacted the Notoriety for Profit Law.
He brought to class a suitcase full of famous murderabilia items for students to have an up-close-and-personal look at letters and items sent to him from notorious criminals across the country. These items included fingernail clippings, locks of hair, and other personal items that would have been sold by the offenders if not for the law preventing it.
While students were especially interested in these murderabilia items, they asked questions and learned a great deal about victims’ rights and working as a victim advocate. Kahan believes that in today’s climate of criminality, victim advocates are a critical and necessary resource. He concluded the lecture by asking students to live a life where they too could make a difference within the criminal justice system.