Victim Impact Statement Tips for Homicide Survivors, Part III

Victim Impact Statement

 

While preparing for my family’s most recent parole hearing over the last four months, I have learned a lot of information regarding fundamental disconnects in providing victim services.

I’d like to think that it is confined to my home state of Connecticut, but I know better, and therein lies the reason for forging new paths for others. Unfortunately, there are always new crime victims around the corner.

There appears to be long-standing, but forgotten, fundamental principles that can be attributed to failures in the criminal justice process. I will summarize these below. Take time to check on the status of these elements in your state, and review as if you were reading a report card for victim services in your state.

Communicate- Collaborate – Don’t Operate in Silos

For illustration purposes, in Connecticut, we have a Constitutional Victim Advocate whose role it is to work with families to solve problems in which their constitutional rights are not being provided, to  review cases in which a family’s constitutional rights were not provided, and to propose remedies and create a record for judicial review.

The Office of Victim Services is the direct service arm charged with providing victim compensation, support and advocacy in many forms, notification, community resources, training and outreach.

The Board of Pardons and Parole has “the mission to facilitate the successful reintegration of suitable offenders into the community and secondarily to take into consideration the rights of victims to be treated with respect and dignity.”  The trouble is, in my state, these entities operate in different branches of government, and therefore do not come together to communicate, collaborate, or join forces as a routine practice for victims.  This can be quite surprising to a new crime victim who does not understand the nature of how state governments frequently operate.

Advertise- Promote Available Resources

We expect that during National Crime Victim Rights Week there may be a special effort to promote services in general to state employees and the public.  However, other advances such as the right to file Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to ascertain information about a perpetrator is not known or exercised in my state until I made a recent request.  In addition, Victim Anonymity, a hard-fought right, was made public once in 2013, but apparently has gone towards obscurity in the past five years.

It was announced in a press release on August 12, 2013 that the Office of Victim Services in Connecticut adopted a policy, along with the Pardon and Parole Board, for “Victim Anonymity” allowing crime victims to participate meaningfully on the record at a parole hearing without revealing their identity.

Victim Anonymity PRESS RELEASE 8 12 13

Be Open to Change  

When you see holes in the process, or no service at all, don’t let them get by with comments such as “That’s the way it’s always been done.” or “I don’t think we can do it.”  Always question why. Offer to assist in making the needed changes and let them know what the benefits are, especially to those who you are asking for help. Maintain a confident, positive attitude no matter what the response. Let them know that you are a team player and you want them on your team.

Think Out of the BoxBE BOLD  

Thinking out of the box is often uncomfortable for government workers who have never been rewarded for imagination. If you are encountering resistance with your assigned advocate, go up the chain of command, to a supervisor, another department, a legislator with power, connections, and, if needed, go to the press once you have an organized plan and message you want the masses to know. Although there are risks involved, there is nothing like picking up the pace of positive change with media coverage.

Think Like a Brand New Victim   

If you are a crime victim, you can remember those initial feelings of panic, helplessness, wanting to hide, or in constant need for information. Your victim service provider should always walk in your shoes with everything they do for victims, with an eye toward – Is this information clear?  Is it enough? How can we do better? How can we account for and anticipate individual needs and differences? Resist one size fits all answers at all costs!

Victim Impact Statement: Tips for Homicide Survivors, Part I

Victim Impact Statement Tips for Homicide Survivors, Part II


DonnaGore-2

If  you need assistance with writing a professional Victim Impact Statement, please refer to the Victim Impact Statement FAQ’s on this site.

To schedule a presentation with me at your future event or  conference please contact:

ImaginePublicity,  Telephone: 843.808.0859  Email:  contact@imaginepublicity.com

  

 

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Victim Impact Statement Tips for Homicide Survivors, Part II

 

Victim Impact Statement

This is a series of articles on the importance of the Victim Impact Statement including tips that I have gathered over the years from my personal experience as a homicide survivor, from others, and from those I have been able to assist in writing this critical document.

Expressing fear for your personal safety and the right to be reasonably protected is one of your State Constitutional rights, currently active in 33 states, under the Federal Statute enacted in October 2004 by the Reagan Administration.

But, what does it really mean to be reasonably protected? According to the Crime Victim’s Act of 2004:

2.11 Release or Detention Pending Sentence or Appeal

If there is an issue whether the defendant may be released pending sentencing or appeal, victims must be notified of the hearing and provided an opportunity to be heard. As noted earlier, section 3771(a)(1) provides that crime victims have the right “to be reasonably protected from the accused.” Under Fed. R. Crim. P. 46, the defendant has the burden of establishing that he or she does not “pose a danger to any other person or to the community.”

An educated guess concerning not posing a danger after many years of incarceration, no matter the number of crimes or how heinous the crimes may have been, might be house arrest, wearing a GPS device, being employed under constant supervision, and probation. However, reality tells us that probation is overburdened, GPS technology fails, and there are not enough staff to adequately monitor prisoners when on the outside.

What are the provisions made for surviving victims who are elderly, medically challenged, or victims who happen to be disabled?  Will the system provide real protection other than the usual bureaucratic responses?

In my personal case, I do not feel confident. I do not feel secure in the knowledge that the person who murdered my father will necessarily leave us in peace.  Rest assured that I will not quit until I know what reasonably protected truly means in practical terms. In the final analysis, the Pardon and Parole Board or the Court’s decision is just another decision in just another workday for most hearing officers, with nothing to differentiate them.

For those with able bodies and minds, I offer our natural resources as an option, if and when personal terror invades.     

The fight or flight response is a physiological response to acute stress when an imminent threat is present, real or perceived, either physically or mentally. This occurs naturally by triggering hormones which prepare your body to stay and deal with the threat effectively or flee from the situation. The manner in which this occurs includes the triggering of chemicals from your adrenal glands resulting in increased heart rate, breathing for increased energy, blood rushing to your brain and extremities and trembling due to muscular tension.  

Whether your brain and body choses flight or fight at the crucial moment to protect, I can’t say.  As for me, I can’t flee effectively, so I’ll have to depend upon my intellect to save me, which is what I have always done.

Within the context of your Victim Impact Statement you should relay your fears, as well as whether your current conditions to be reasonably protected are favorable to the decisions to be made by the court. Express your expectations on what reasonably protected means to you and your family.

For more tips on victim impact statements:

Victim Impact Statement: Tips for Homicide Survivors, Part I


 

DonnaGore-2

If  you need assistance with writing a professional Victim Impact Statement, please refer to the Victim Impact Statement FAQ’s on this site.

To schedule a presentation with me at your future event or  conference please contact:

ImaginePublicity,  Telephone: 843.808.0859  Email:  contact@imaginepublicity.com

Victim Impact Statement: Tips for Homicide Survivors, Part I

Victim Impact Statement

This is a series of articles on the importance of the Victim Impact Statement including tips that I have gathered over the years from my personal experience as a homicide survivor, from others, and from those I have been able to assist in writing this critical document.

As a new crime victim, an affiliation that was never imagined or requested, you are thrust into the world of the unknown. If you are fortunate enough to have arrived on this stage of victim impact delivery at a trial sentencing, as opposed to plea deals, you have arrived at the most important point in your journey for justice. Your voice is finally allowed to be counted. The real world of criminal justice is a bitter pill to swallow. Justice is never swift nor fair, especially concerning sentencing.

When you begin to prepare your victim impact statement, you want to convey the journey and the overall toll it has taken from many perspectives; emotionally, psychologically, physically, financially, the overview of your current situation. Projecting into the future, express your wishes regarding the disposition of the perpetrator and any changes to the system which negatively impacted and/or re-victimized you or, alternately, your satisfaction with how you were treated.

Familiarizing the Deciding Body with the Victim

The judge or parole hearing officers may have a pre-sentence report, but that report may contain very little information about who your loved one was, the way they lived their life and what they meant to you, as opposed to only being the victim of the crime.

It is imperative that you provide a complete portrayal of your loved one both visually with pictures, and with the words of your Victim Impact Statement, as this may be your only opportunity for several years until the point of your initial court or parole appearance, or until you obtain future opportunity to address the court or parole board.

Talk about who your loved one was beyond the crime; their assets, talents, what they contributed to the family and to others, and their aspirations for the future that were taken away.  You can acknowledge that the victim may have had flaws, as we all do, however, the account should stress their past positive activities.

Watch for more information in future articles of Victim Impact Statement: Tips for Homicide Survivors


DonnaGore-2

If  you need assistance with writing a professional Victim Impact Statement, please refer to the Victim Impact Statement FAQ’s on this site.

To schedule a presentation with me at your future event or  conference please contact:

ImaginePublicity,  Telephone: 843.808.0859  Email:  contact@imaginepublicity.com

Crime Victimization & Victim Impact: Nuts & Bolts and Some “Intangibles”

crime-268896_640

Just keeping afloat in 2018, takes incredible fortitude and courage. Seemingly at every turn we see violence, sadness, corruption, natural disaster, loss of morality, indifference and a general dumbing down of standards that used to be impenetrable. When we have such forces as our backdrop for life, our yardstick, how do we possibly deal with our personal devastation in the aftermath of crime? How do we personally keep afloat and find a sense of hope? It is the hardest challenge we will ever face!

Who Does a Better Job?

Although we have made great strides with the infrastructure of victim advocacy over the years, the humanity, the compassion and support and the going the extra mile often lags behind when it comes to governmental services perpetually faced with financial cuts. In my opinion, it is the grass roots non-profit organizations who have figured out how to do more with less and make friends with community partners and survivors of crime who appear to be better equipped to provide the services most needed.

Nuts & Bolts of Victim Impact Statement:

During the sentencing phase of a trial or board of pardons and parole hearing, a crime victim is metaphorically standing at the crossroads of their forever after existence. That person hopefully has given much thought and has decided what is truly important to convey to the court or BPP officials individually, or collectively, with the assistance of a paid advocate or fellow survivor.  As the surviving victim, you should ask yourself before you even attempt to compose a statement, what should be my primary focus? What do I really want?

A review of possible options:

  • The emotional impact and devastation of my loss;
  • Financial  restitution;
  • Requesting a verbal or written apology from the offender;
  • Having the opportunity to add new  information to the formal record with the potential of altering the length and provisions of sentencing;
  • Using this forum for emotional release;
  • Describing the future legacy of your murdered loved one;
  • Educating judicial officials regarding your unique needs and nuances of the process which were previously overlooked but very important to you;
  • Expressing forgiveness to “a higher power” as a way of self-healing;

Other Considerations:

  • In the State of Connecticut when delivering your victim impact statement, you are not limited regarding the length of time, nor is the content edited in any way, according to our Board of Pardons and Parole website and personal experience.
  • In the State of South Carolina, a videotaped statement cannot exceed five minutes in the case of one victim, ten minutes for multiple victims.
  • (Be sure to check with your state as rules vary from state to state.)
  • Physical Environment – During a court sentencing, you will be facing the judge with the defendant behind you or to the right or left of you as you make your presentation.  Your statement is part of the official court record, or hearing.
  • Restitution and Compensation (From the National Center for Victims of Crime) Increasing the likelihood that restitution will be ordered:  Victims can do two things to increase the likelihood that restitution will be ordered in their case: gather information about their financial loss, and request that restitution be ordered.  To increase the chances that restitution will be ordered, victims should make sure their victim impact statement includes a summary of the out-of-pocket expenses resulting from the crime
  • The difference between restitution and compensation: While restitution is court-ordered payment from a convicted offender, crime victim compensation is a state government program that pays many of the out-of-pocket expenses of victims of violent crime even when there is no arrest or prosecution. Ordinarily, to be eligible for compensation the victim is required to report the offense within a certain amount of time, cooperate in the investigation and prosecution, and file an application within a set time. The expenses covered by compensation vary and are usually set by state law. All compensation programs cover medical expenses, most cover counseling, and very few cover any property loss.
  • In comparison, restitution can only be ordered in cases where someone has been convicted. However, restitution can be ordered in almost any case (although courts may be required to order it only for certain offenses), and can be ordered for a wider variety of losses, including property loss. A victim cannot collect both compensation and restitution for the same losses.
  • Technology- Videoconferencing is a concept that has existed since 1996. The clear leader in this area appears to be the State of Michigan. They began in 2004 with the Department of Corrections bringing the total of videoconferencing sites to 64, including five “telemed” sites. Imagine never having to leave prison grounds for prisoner –immigration hearings, dietician and mental health appointments! This is an up and coming industry of vast proportions.  MDs  can even use electronic stethoscopes to listen to heart and lungs and view x-rays instantly! Viola! This is all in the name of reducing costs and increasing efficiency!
  • Is there a line in the sand that needs to be drawn to say that victims of crime also need these innovative heath care services, particularly the elderly after having suffered their tremendous losses? Indeed!
  • “Intangibles”- meaning loss of productivity, medical care, mental health, use of public safety services, property loss, “tangible losses”, “quality of life” loss .  The problem is, the data available is so old – from the National Institute of Justice – January 1996, and can only be used as a general reference. Basically, 19 years ago…
  • Estimates of monetary values, including lost wages were in the range of $500,000 to $7 million;

What is Pain and Suffering and Quality of life really worth?

  • In 1996, violent crime was 3% of all medical spending and 14% of injury related spending and 10-20% of mental health expenditures in the U.S.
  • At that time, losses per incident of criminal victimization (including attempts) looked like this for fatal crimes including rape and murder-
  • Loss of productivity- $1,000,000;
  • Medical Care /Ambulance- $16,300;
  • Social-Victim Services- 0
  • Mental Health – $4,800;
  • Police & Fire Services – $1,300;
  • Property Loss/Damage – $120.00
  • Murder “Tangible Losses (Subtotal) “$1,030.000
  • “Intangible Quality of Life Losses” $1,910.00;
  • Total = $2,940.000

(Reference for above from: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/victcost.pdf)

Victim Impact Statement Assistance Service

 

One can assume that for today’s standards, the current cost of living and the escalation of spree and mass murder, these figures may be triple or more per incident. (In my humble opinion)

I do not put much faith in numbers, for they can always be manipulated to serve ones’ point of view, human error is rampant and they do not tell the whole story. I believe that an investment in people and their true life stories illuminate our understanding and pave the way for change far better than what a calculator reveals.

In some cases, the surviving victims may be too emotionally distraught, or may not have the ability to correctly express their feelings. A professional who has experience as a victim of crime, as well as assisting others through trials, can help you put your thoughts into a professionally written statement, and coach you on your delivery in court.

If you are anticipating the task of victim impact statement writing with trepidation, perhaps I can assist.


DonnaGore-2

 

To schedule a presentation with me at your future event or  conference please contact:

ImaginePublicity,  Telephone: 843.808.0859  Email:  contact@imaginepublicity.com