September 3, 1979 changed forever the lives of Mike and Harriet Salarno. Their eldest daughter, Catina Rose Salarno, was senselessly murdered ‘execution style’ at the University of the Pacific in Stockton on her first day of school. She was only 18 years old.
In the years that followed, the Salarno family endured the frustrations of a criminal justice system that tilted too heavily toward preserving criminal rights while barely addressing the rights and needs of victims and victims’ families.
Through Harriet’s leadership, Crime Victims United grew quickly and is today recognized as the Nation’s most trusted victims’ rights advocacy group.
In 1982, Harriet co-chaired the Crime Victims Bill of Rights effort, establishing an historic turning point for victims of crime and setting off a national wave of states enacting similar laws. Since then, Harriet has been instrumental in bringing fundamental change to various states’ criminal justice systems.
In 2008, Harriet helped rally victims’ groups to assist in the passage of Marsy’s Law constitutional amendment ballot measure, which added 17 specific victims and victims families’ rights into the California Constitution. This victory represented the first time any state constitution had specifically addressed and protected victims’ rights. Harriet has also spearheaded the multiple battles to save California’s death penalty from being abolished.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, Harriet was appointed by former Governor Pete Wilson to the California Council on Criminal Justice, the State Advisory Group on Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention, the Commission on Judicial Performance and was appointed by former San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan to the City’s Juvenile Justice Probation Commission.
In 1982, Harriet worked closely with Justice Lois Herrington who headed President Reagan’s landmark Task Force on Crime Victims, helping develop nearly two dozen essential policy recommendations to strengthen rights of victims and their families.
Harriet is also a past recipient of the Doris Tate Governor’s Award and was named California State Assembly “Woman of the Year” by Assemblyman John Burton, one of two times she has received this honor. In 2006 Harriet received special recognition from the Correctional Peace Officers Foundation at Project 2000 XVII for her dedication to Crime Victims United of California and her active pursuit of its goals. She is the 2006 winner of the California Correctional Peace Officers’ Association John Wayne Award and was awarded the Golden Badge Foundations Victim’s Advocate Award in 2006. Harriet was also awarded the Association of Deputy District Attorneys 2006 Pursuit of Justice Award, and was given a U.S. Department of Justice Certificate of Appreciation in 1993.
Harriet’s national leadership includes appearances on “Nightline” and “48 Hours” and as the subject of articles in Woman’s Day and Ladies Home Journal.
She has worked on several propositions in the state of California that call for protection of victim rights. The measures include:
- Prop 8, Victim's Bill of Rights. Right to restitution and truth in evidence (1982).
- Prop172, half cent sales tax for public safety (1992.)
- Prop179, twenty years to life for second degree murder for drive-by shootings (1994).
- Prop 184, three strikes (1994).
- Prop 189, allows no bail for felony sex assault charges (1994).
- Prop 195, added three types of murder to special circuits allowing death penalty (1996).
- Prop 213, prevented DUI drivers from suing civilly and prevented criminals from suing for injuries sustained during their crime (1996).
- Prop 222, punishment for second degree murder of a police officer is life without parole and all murder convictions receive no credits (1998).
- Prop 18, murder by lying in wait, arson and kidnapping added to special circuit's list (2000).
- Prop 2, Allowed juveniles to be tried as adults without juvenile court approval for certain crimes. Mandates detention for certain crimes, does not allow informal handling for felonies, barring the sealing of records for certain crimes and increasing punishment for gang crime. (2000).
- Prop 83, Jessica's Law, sex offenders. Requires prison, not probation, for certain crimes. Can't live within 2000 feet of school or park.(2006).
- Prop 9, Crime Victim's Bill of Rights, Marsy's Law (2008).
- Prop 35, human trafficking. Increased prison sentences, must register as sex offenders and must register their internet accounts (2012).
Harriet Salarno lives in the greater Sacramento area, California where she directs the staff and legal team at Crime Victims United’s national office.