Victims’ Rights and Services
States across the Nation are unwavering in their efforts to promote victims’ essential rights. These include the right to be treated with dignity, respect, and sensitivity; the right to be informed; the right to apply for compensation; and the right to receive restitution from the offender. Beyond statutes, court rules, and administrative codes, advocates have taken various innovative steps to uphold and enforce victims’ rights.
Colorado and Minnesota
The Colorado Division of Criminal Justice maintains a Victim Rights Act (VRA) Compliance Program to ensure victims of crime are afforded their constitutional and statutory rights. The program’s goal is systemic change, either through collaboration with criminal justice agencies or as a result of a VRA complaint. A VRA specialist conducts an initial review of formal complaints, which are then submitted to the VRA Subcommittee for final determination on whether a violation of the VRA has occurred. Each year, more than 200 victims contact the program and an average of 16 file formal complaints.
Similarly, the Crime Victim Justice Unit in Minnesota is a victims’ rights compliance office. The unit works to ensure that crime victims’ rights are upheld and promotes high standards of competence and efficiency for its staff, and justice for crime victims. The unit has the authority to investigate complaints from crime victims about the decisions and actions of criminal justice professionals.
Florida’s free and confidential victim notification system, Florida VINELink, automatically registers all victims for automated notification. Notifications are available in English, Spanish, and Creole, 24/7, and can be sent by phone, TTY, and e-mail. Anyone who does not want to receive notifications about inmate release, transfer, or escape must sign a form specifying they want to opt out. With this opt-out system, Florida has a much higher number of victims registered to receive notices. Although it requires additional work to keep track of so many people, it increases victim and public safety.
The Idaho Crime Victims Compensation (ICVC) program has collected restitution since December 1998. The program regularly mentors other states that want to build their internal capacity to collect restitution. ICVC collects restitution payments through its Web site. In August 2012, Idaho implemented a monthly billing system. Offenders are notified when they have outstanding restitution payments due. Idaho has successfully collected large sums of money from many offenders who simply were unaware they owed restitution. The offender’s probation or parole officer receives a copy of the notice so he or she can assist offenders in paying their restitution. The notices direct offenders to make payments to the Clerk of the Court in their district. As a result, many victims receive restitution payments as offenders begin to satisfy their outstanding debt.
The Maryland Governor’s Office of Crime Control & Prevention provided more than $680,000 to expand the state’s hospital-based domestic violence programs from four to eight. Program services include screening for and documenting abuse, mandated reporting, crisis intervention, safety planning, emotional support, danger assessments, and referrals to community resources such as shelters and counseling. Maryland’s programs also assist hospitals in training medical staff to recognize domestic violence and conduct proper screening procedures. Screening programs are likely to decrease hospitalizations, workplace costs and liability, misdiagnosis, and the high cost of specialty care. In addition, hospital staff are more likely to screen all patients for abuse when identifying abuse results in a simple in-house referral.
“A Victim’s Guide” gives victims in Mississippi a comprehensive overview of all aspects of the justice process in an easy-to-understand format, and provides tips and resources for coping with the emotional and financial aftermath of crime. The guide was created by the Office of the Attorney General, which operates the Crime Victim Compensation Division/Bureau of Victim Assistance.
The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence has received funding from the federal Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). In addition, more than 25 AmeriCorps Victim Assistance Program volunteers work at the state’s crisis centers, prosecutors’ offices, and child advocacy centers, where they serve up to 5,000 victims every year. AmericCorps mobilizes volunteers for intensive service at nonprofit organizations, schools, public agencies, and community- and faith-based groups across the country. The volunteers who provide victim services in New Hampshire are coordinated at the state level, with funding for the coordinator’s position coming from the AmeriCorps grant and a state victim assistance fund.
New Jersey victims of crime can retain an attorney for help not only with filing a compensation claim but with legal matters related to the victimization specified in the claim, as well. Payment for services, up to $1,000, is deducted from the maximum claim benefits. This gives victims access to legal expertise on their behalf in a criminal matter and ensures victims’ rights are protected. New Jersey pays attorney fees at the rate of $125 per hour, with a required affidavit of work performed. In 2012, this victims’ rights benefit cost only $23,722 of the $9.9 million awarded.
Vermont’s approach to restitution puts the victim’s needs first by paying victims up to $10,000 of what they are owed up front and then pursuing collection from the offenders for the remaining amounts owed and to reimburse the Special Restitution Fund. Checks to eligible victims typically are released 40 days after a judge orders restitution. From 2007 to 2012, the Vermont Restitution Unit saw $10.5 million in revenue from the 15-percent surcharge on criminal and traffic fines to support the fund, and $5.6 million was collected from offenders. Payouts to victims totaled $8.2 million.
The Crime Victim Rights Board in Wisconsin is a five-member body created by the state legislature in 1998 to enforce crime victims’ rights. The board is a quasi-judicial authority, under the administration of the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Office of Crime Victim Services. The board reviews and investigates complaints filed by victims of crime alleging a violation of statutory or constitutional victims’ rights by a public official, employee, or agency. The board can issue private or public reprimands for violations and seek relief on behalf of a victim. The board also can bring civil action to assess a forfeiture of up to $1,000 for an intentional violation or refer cases to the Judicial Commission. Since 1999, the board has received 39 cases for review. It has issued 8 private reprimands and 21 reports and recommendations.