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.
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 Box– BE 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!
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