Program keeps victims alerted |

Program keeps victims alerted

by Gregory Crofton

Every 30 minutes they call.

No, it’s not to harass or scare. Instead the VINE program is meant to comfort victims who want to know if their attacker is in jail or on the streets.

VINE, which stands for Victim Information & Notification Everyday, is a new computer system that serves the El Dorado County Jail system.

A free phone call now gives victims information about inmates 24 hours a day. An automated operator says, for example, “John Doe is now in custody at El Dorado County Jail. His next court date is March 20, 2001.”

Once someone registers with VINE they get a pin code. When an inmate is released from jail, VINE calls every half-hour on the hour for 24 hours until that pin code is entered.

That lets VINE know that a victim, or a member of their family, got the message that a convict has been released from jail. If an answering machine picks up the call and no pin is entered, the system will continue to make calls every two hours for another 24 hours.

“It was my idea to get it,” said Sheriff Hal Barker. “I think it’s just the greatest thing in the world. Its biggest advantage is that it allows people who are afraid of someone in jail, or think they might be in any danger at all, (to call in). It’s just a big safety net. Some people released from jail are violent or dangerous.”

The system is especially helpful to victims of domestic violence. Anna Luby, a criminal justice advocate at El Dorado County Women’s Center in Placerville, said a colleague has already utilized VINE.

“We have an attorney who does all the paperwork that goes along with restraining orders,” Luby said. “Recently she was in the middle of a session and not sure how much time it would take to get a restraining order going. She called (the VINE number) for her client and found that the person was out and said ‘OK we have to get this to the courts right now.’ “

Since VINE began spreading in 1994, 750 counties in the United States and Canada have tapped into it. El Dorado and seven other California counties are using the system.

Barker said his department paid for VINE, which cost $15,500 to install and program, with money from the Inmate Welfare Trust Fund, a fund with an annual budget of $150,000.

Barker followed the lead of Sacramento County Sheriff Lou Blanas who recently received court approval to use money from the inmate fund to pay for VINE.

“Anybody can call it,” said El Dorado County Sheriff’s Inmate Services Officer Melissa Meekma. “You have to know a booking number or at least a name.”

Meekma said before VINE was put in place, employees at the jail had to call and inform victims, a process that she said was ripe for human error.

Information is sent from El Dorado County Jail to the VINE computer every 15 minutes. To reach VINE, call toll free at (877) 331-8463.

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