National Victims’ Rights Week is from April 6-12. This year’s theme is “30 Years: Restoring the Balance of Justice.”
This year we mark an important milestone in the rights of crime victims. Since the passage of the Victims of Crime Act in 1984, we have made extraordinary progress on behalf of millions of victims.
Prior to the enactment of this legislation, the world was very different for crime victims, their families and communities. There was no financial assistance to help meet the needs of crime victims. The criminal justice system too often failed to recognize victims’ need to be included in the justice process. Crime victim programs were not consistently available.
The Crime Victim Fund, which was established by VOCA, has propelled systemic change throughout the nation, helping to create an infrastructure of support for victim services and compensations, one that relies not on taxpayer dollars but on fine and penalties paid by criminal offenders in the federal justice system.
Over the last 30 years, the crime victims’ field has opened its doors and customized services to a wider range of crime victims. Services for victims and survivors have become more inclusive, recognizing that we all have a part to play in their recovery. Service delivery has become more flexible, meeting victims’ needs as they move through the recovery process to rebuild their lives.
All 50 states now have victim compensation programs and victim service programs. Crime victims can receive assistance with crime-related medical, dental, counseling, funeral and burial expenses, relocation assistance, crime scene clean up and home security assistance. Advocates assigned to victim service programs can assist victims with explaining the criminal justice system, keeping the victims updated on their criminal case, assisting victims with restraining orders and restitution orders against their offenders. Additionally, Advocates play a very important role with ensuring that victims understand their rights within the criminal justice system and assist the victims with asserting those rights during the prosecution of the offender.
In 2008, Marsy’s Law expanded the rights of victims to include the right to be treated with fairness and respect throughout the criminal justice system; protection from the defendant; input into setting bail and release conditions; prevention of the disclosure of confidential information; right to refusal to be interviewed by the defense; right to conference with the prosecution and notice of pretrial disposition; the right to attend hearings; the right to address the court and express their views; the right to a speedy trial and prompt conclusion of their case; the right to have input into the presentence report and to be informed of probation’s recommendation; the right to receive the presentence report; the right to receive information about conviction, sentence, incarceration, release and escape; the right to seek and secure restitution; prompt return of property; notice of release and parole; and the right to have the safety of the victim and public considered prior to release on parole.
Although we have made tremendous strides on behalf of victims, this is not a time to rest on three decades of progress. Victims’ Rights Week is a reminder of the work still before us to restore the balance of justice to all those harmed by crime.
For more information about your rights as a victim and the services available to you, contact your local Victim Witness program at 530-642-4760 or 530-573-3338.
Susan Meyer is the program coordinator for the El Dorado County Victim Witness Program.