The role the government plays in locking up offenders is a frequently covered topic, but what can sometimes go unnoticed is the role government plays in trying to help out the victims of crime. We previously looked at grants offered by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC), some of which may have covered victim assistance.
However, this column focuses more on actual services provided by the state directly to victims.
Crime victims emergency fund
The Crime Victims Emergency Fund (CVEF) was established in 1988 under O.C.G.A. 17-15-10 to assist innocent victims who suffered physical injury, severe financial hardships, or death as a result of criminal acts. The fund is used to support the Georgia Crime Victims Compensation Program, which funds payments to innocent crime victims, the forensic medical examinations program (which pays for medical exams for victims of sexual assault), and for unclaimed restitution.
CVEF is funded through a combination of state and federal fund sources, with probation and parole fees making up the largest contributors to the fund. State revenues that make up the CVEF include fines imposed on parolees, probationers, and DUI offenders.
In fiscal year 2013, for example, $15.8 million of the $17.6 million in total fund revenue was made up of probation fees. CVEF receives federal funding through the Victim of Crime Act Compensation Grant program, which matches the state for 60 cents for each dollar spent on Crime Victim Compensation.
The fund also receives 10 percent of state prisoner wages that are earned in the private sector in a program called the Prisoner Entry Enhancement Certification Program, although this program generally creates less than $10,000 annually according to CJCC.
Unclaimed restitution that has not been claimed after five years is also transferred to the CVEF, although this fund source varies from year to year. The Georgia Crime Victims Compensation program supports victims with compensation for funeral costs, financial losses, crime scene cleanup, DUI memorial signs, medical costs, and counseling costs.
In FY13, CJCC issued 11,584 payments for the program with over 9,000 of those payments for medical costs. Payments for each type of compensation are as follows: $15,000 maximum for medical and dental costs, $3,000 maximum for counseling, $6,000 maximum for funeral expenses (due to legislation passed during the 2015 session), $10,000 maximum for economic support, and $1,500 maximum for crime scene clean up expenses. The fund also now covers the costs of sexual assault kits as well as forensic interviews needed for victim cases involving children or developmentally disabled adults.
CVEF funds that are not used for these specific purposes are carried over to the next year, and not returned to Treasury. Due to this practice, the fund has grown over the past four fiscal years. At the end of FY14, the fund had over $50 million in reserve, although growth did slow over FY13 and FY14.
In the past two legislative sessions, some steps have been taken to increase the use of the fund due to its increasing revenue reserves. In the 2015 session, legislation was passed to increase funeral payouts from $3,000 to $6,000 to better match actual funeral expenses, as well as extending funeral compensation to parents, stepparents, and stepchildren.
In the 2014 session, legislation was passed to have forensic interview expenses covered by the fund. By adding these two additional expenses, the hope is to begin utilizing more of the program’s reserves. CJCC believes that $23 million to $24 million is a responsible reserve range for the fund to carry, so that there is enough funding to cover a significant event that could lead to lots of victims, as well as at least 12 months of funding for victims’ compensation.
Legal services to victims of domestic violence
In FY16, the program received about $2.3 million in state general funds, with a majority of the grants going to the Atlanta Legal Aid Society Inc. and Georgia Legal Services Programs Inc. for assistance to low-income victims of domestic violence. Funds are administered by the Administrative Office of the Courts.
Victim advocates in the district attorney’s office
All judicial circuits in Georgia have at least one victim’s advocate which may assist a victim with recovery from the Crime Victims Emergency Fund. But, the definition of “assist” and duties of victims’ advocates vary across the circuits based on need. The duties of a victims’ advocate range from guiding the victim through the judicial process, to providing notification of a variety of court proceedings, to making referrals to professional and community resources.
The State Board of Pardons and Paroles — Victims’ Services
The office of Victim Services operates the Victim Information Program, an automated information system that provides crime victims and their families with constant access to information about their offender. Those registered will automatically receive a call when the inmate is released from prison after completing their court-ordered term, after they are released from prison to begin a probation program, and upon being granted a parole release.
Helpful Web sites
A FAQ on the Crime Victims Services: cjcc.georgia.gov/sites/cjcc.georgia.gov/files/related_files/document/CJCC%20 FAQ%20May%202015.pdf
Victim’s Bill of Rights: http://cjcc.georgia.gov/sites/cjcc.georgia.gov/files/related_files/document/ Victims%20Bill%20of%20Rights%20Rev%207.15.pdf
Pardons and Paroles Office of Victim Services:
I may be reached at
234 State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334
(404) 656-5038 (phone)
(404) 657-7094 (fax)
E-mail at Jack.Hill@senate.ga.gov
Or call toll-free
at 1-800-367-3334 day or night
Reidsville office: (912) 557-3811