Tuesday, December 20, 2011

National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month

The month of December brings many holiday celebrations that often include alcohol. Consequently, December tends to produce more than average intoxicated drivers carelessly sharing our roads.

In an effort to spread public awareness, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and several other agencies have named December "National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month," a campaign created to educate the community about the seriousness of driving under the influence of substances and its devastating consequences.

Every time we drive, we are unfortunately faced with the possibility of falling victim to an impaired driver’s rash mistake. According to NHTSA, three out of every ten Americans will be involved in a motor vehicle accident involving drunk driving during their lives. Accidents related to drunk and drugged driving claim the lives of thousands of Americans every year and have become one of the deadliest crimes in America today. Impaired drivers continue to roam our streets and put the lives of our family and friends at risk.

In response, CalVCP has joined the campaign to spread public awareness. As an agency dedicated to assisting victims of crimes, we would like you to know that victims of drunk and drugged driving accidents are able to receive compensation through our program. CalVCP has helped 809 drunk and drugged driving victims and paid an estimated $2.8 million since January 2010. Our claimants received compensation that covered mental health treatment, income and support loss, medical bills, funeral costs, and rehabilitation.

CalVCP is committed to creating healthier communities and we would like to offer you ways to fight back against drunk and drugged driving. The NHTSA has provided tips for those hosting or attending holiday parties:
  • Include a reminder about selecting a designated driver in your invitation.
  • If you are going to serve alcohol, be certain to offer guests non-alcoholic drinks as well.
  • Ensure that all guests leave with a sober driver; if necessary, call a taxi for a guest or even take their keys. Remember, “Friends don’t let friends drink and drive."
  • Dial 911 if you see any suspicious drivers.
Please play your part this year in spreading awareness of drunk and drugged driving. And remember, don’t let drunk and drugged driving prevention be a seasonal concern; our communities should work together to help prevent these tragedies all year long.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Protecting Crime Victims for the Long Haul

Earlier this year, Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill 898, a bill that will help California continue to provide necessary funds to victims of violent crime and help them with the high costs associated with those crimes. This new legislation increases minimum fines placed on offenders for felonies and misdemeanors for the first time in nearly 20 years. The last time minimum fines were increased to protect crime victims who had suffered out-of-pocket expenses was 17 years ago, in 1994. At that time, gasoline was just over $1.00 per gallon, and a gallon of milk was $2.88. Today, those prices have more than tripled and doubled. You can imagine how the cost of medical treatment has risen since then. The California Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP) relies heavily on these fines to take care of the needs of California’s crime victims. This is why an increase, along with imposing and collecting restitution, is more important than ever. Restitution does more than impose a fine; it holds the offender accountable and helps with the healing process for the victim. Increasing fines to be sure the program can meet the needs of victims for years to come is paying respect to the victims and their families who often endure a lifetime of struggle.

CalVCP covers horrific crimes such as domestic violence, child abuse, sexual and physical assault, homicide, robbery, drunk driving, and vehicular manslaughter. In Fiscal Year 2010/11, the program paid out nearly $96 million to victims. This year, we anticipate the costs to be even higher. We help the victims through those fines paid by criminal offenders, not tax-payer dollars.

As we know, the California Victim Compensation Program is the last hope for many crime victims. With offenders paying more, we can be there to help.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

It is far too often that I learn of yet another domestic dispute that tragically advances into domestic violence (DV). While many reports do not show an increase in the number of DV cases, many California studies are showing an increase in the level of violence in reported cases.

Domestic violence, often referred to as intimate partner violence (IPV), occurs between two people in a close relationship and includes current and former spouses and dating partners. It can be a single episode of violence to ongoing battering and includes physical violence, sexual violence, threats and emotional abuse. The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control of the Division of Violence Prevention reports the following unsettling statistics:
  • Each year, 4.8 million women fall prey to intimate partner related physical assaults and rapes.
  • Each year, 2.9 million men fall prey to intimate partner related physical assaults.
  • IPV resulted in 2,340 deaths in 2007. Of these deaths, 70% were females and 30% were males.
Here at CalVCP, we understand that when tragedy strikes, it can be a frightening and traumatic experience that often includes physical, emotional, or financial harm. Many victims have questions about whom they can trust and where they can go for help. When it comes to financial assistance, CalVCP may provide needed compensation to help cover treatment and other support services for victims and their families. It is imperative that victims and their loved ones know that CalVCP can help.

Just last year, our program helped nearly 14,000 domestic violence victims pay for expenses related to their crime. CalVCP provided more than $18.5 million in reimbursement costs last year covering mental health treatment, medical bills, relocation fees, income and support loss, funeral and dental expenses for those inflicted by domestic violence.

CalVCP stands firm in our commitment to do all that we can to help. During October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, many will be doing their part to raise awareness and provide tangible resources for victims. Let us encourage our friends, families and neighbors to report intimate partner violence when it is suspected.

If you suspect someone is in danger please direct them to the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), 1-800-787-3224 TTY, or www.ndvh.org.

There is hope. CalVCP can help.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Parents of Murdered Children — National Day of Remembrance

September 25th marked the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims, a day set aside each year to honor the lives of loved ones taken by violence. Once again, the local Sacramento Chapter of “Parents of Murdered Children” (POMC), in coordination with chapters around the nation, held a special ceremony to remember and pay honor to the sons, daughters and other family members that have been taken away all too soon.

I was privileged to be one of the selected speakers at this year’s POMC event on the north steps of the State Capitol. When I addressed the supporters and families, I conveyed that CalVCP is committed more than ever to helping parents recover from such tragedy. For many, the road to healing is long and arduous and now is a time when victims need our help the most, as well as our support. We understand that and provide mental health treatment, funeral and burial expenses, lost wages and much more for those who have no other means.

There were several other speakers on this day, including: Sean Laird, Sacramento Deputy District Attorney; Ahmale Dorsey, Victim Advocate; and Mindi Russell, Senior Chaplain, Sacramento Law Enforcement. All were on hand to share their thoughts and provide support to grieving parents and family members and be part of this community of victims and survivors.

Sadly, 38 percent of the victims that we help are under 18 years of age. And last year, 31 applications for assistance came to us from a parent or guardian who lost a child to violence. Every day, I see how important it is that we have this service for the thousands of families who have nowhere else to turn. We are continuing to work with our sister agencies to provide the necessary resources and care for these victims and their families. By doing this, we can ensure that Californians have somewhere to turn when the inconceivable happens.

As a united front, we shall always remember and honor all those who have become victims of murder and all those families who lost so much.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Long Road to Recovery

Last month the LAPD announced that they had made arrests in the case of the brutal beating of Bryan Stow, the San Francisco Giants fan who was assaulted in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium on March 31st of this year. Two men, believed to be responsible for the assault on Mr. Stow, that left him with severe brain injuries, were taken into custody and charged with mayhem, assault and battery.

Despite the progress toward bringing Mr. Stow’s alleged attackers to justice, the true emotional and physical cost to Mr. Stow and his family can never be fully measured. This story, although unique in terms of the public interest it has attracted, is like so many other stories of victims of violent crime, entailing great financial toll and a long struggle for recovery. In the five months since the attack, Mr. Stow remains hospitalized and battling very serious injuries.

News headlines seldom follow the personal aftermath of violent crime and the long road to recovery faced by victims. Once the tragedy is out of sight, we tend to forget about the burden victims are left to carry. Even more sobering, we know that for each story that we hear about in the media, there are literally thousands of other violent crimes in California, some which go completely unnoticed in the public eye. Whether we hear their stories or not, these are all victims who may travel this path without knowing where to turn, in order to find the support they need.

Though no one can ever erase another’s suffering and struggles, we can work together to make sure victims of crime receive assistance with the bills they can’t pay. At CalVCP, we work with victims to connect them with victim advocates and get them compensation for expenses incurred as the result of a violent crime.

For these victims, CalVCP assistance may be a critical step in the recovery process. We will continue our mission to provide the best service possible to all victims of crime and never forget the struggles they suffer and the long road to recovery they must endure.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Cost of Drunk Driving

The statistics are absolutely staggering. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), alcohol-impaired driving is the most frequently committed violent crime in the U.S. It is truly devastating that every minute, one person is injured from an alcohol-related crash. NHTSA reports that one in three people will be involved in an alcohol-related crash in their lifetime and that, on average, someone is killed by a drunk driver every 50 minutes.

In California alone, the most recent Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) report shows that nearly 210,000 DUI arrests were made in 2009. In that same year, there were nearly 1,300 alcohol-involved fatalities in the state. Fortunately, CalVCP is here to help victims of drunk driving. Over the last two years, CalVCP has assisted nearly 3,000 DUI victims and survivors and paid nearly $6.5 million to help these victims. CalVCP provided financial reimbursement for dental care, income and support loss, medical bills, mental health treatment, rehabilitation, relocation, funeral and burial expenses.

CalVCP also works closely with organizations that provide critical services that make a difference in the lives of California violent crime victims. As one of the largest victim service organizations in the U.S., Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is one such nonprofit we proudly partner with and support. CalVCP has been diligent to provide training to their victim advocates on CalVCP assistance to victims of drunk driving, promote events such as Walk Like MADD, and participate in their Annual Candlelight Vigil of Remembrance and Hope.

There is hope to this tragic epidemic; drunk driving and its consequences can be prevented. Education and advocacy will help lower California DUI rates. I thank individuals and organizations like MADD who are taking action to make our communities safer.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Victim’s Survival: Lessons for Us All

I was moved and inspired when I watched, along with 14.8 million other viewers, Jaycee Dugard’s first televised interview since being rescued in August 2009. Jaycee opened up about her experiences at the hands of her captors and explained she did what she had to do “to survive.”

As we all listened to this brave young woman recount the horrifying details of her 18-year ordeal, what kept resonating was the strength and courage demonstrated by both Jaycee and her mother. It gave us all a glimpse of what victims go through before, during and after a crime.

As victim advocates, we recognize the long-term impact a crime like this has on an entire family. Brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, children and even in-laws share the consequences, to some degree. Jaycee mentioned the lasting impact a crime has on the family, not just her family, all families.

While Jaycee’s story has gained worldwide attention, there are other countless victims enduring horrific circumstances on a daily basis, but you will never see their faces, or hear their names on the news. They deserve to have their voices heard too.

Jaycee understands this and has started her own organization called the JayC Foundation. The organization’s mission is to “provide support and services to ensure the timely treatment of families that are recovering from abduction and the aftermath of other traumatic experiences.” Despite what happened to her, she is determined to change the future for the other countless victims out there.

We all have much to learn from Jaycee’s story on so many levels. To move forward is to never give up hope, no matter how dire things may appear. It also reminds us to reach out and do something when we see something that isn’t quite right.

Jaycee is truly an inspiration to us all and a remarkable example of how one little girl can have such an enormous impact on other victims, advocates and the general public.

Like many others who have been following this story, I wish Jaycee and her family much success in their continued recovery.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hate Crimes

As we observe hate crimes awareness month, let me explain the nature of a hate crime. They are crimes motivated by a particular bias such as disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics.

Crimes based on race or ethnicity generally represent 60 percent of all hate crime events, followed by sexual orientation-based crime and then closely by crime based on religion. According to statistics through 2009 from the Department of Justice, hate crimes have been on a general decline since 2001. However, violent crimes still make up around 63% of hate crime.

I want to highlight a case my office recently prosecuted and convicted two men for the beating of a Sikh taxi driver based on the perception that the driver was Muslim. On November 28, 2010, Harbhajan Singh, the cab driver, drove the defendants and their wives home from Harlow’s Bar in Sacramento. Mr. Singh wore a traditional Sikh turban and beard. At the conclusion of the trip, one of the men demanded more change than the fare allowed. Singh merely hesitated to the demand, and then was attacked by the men just as Singh turned to comply. One of the men shouted racial epithets and accused Mr. Singh of being Muslim, then punched Singh in the face repeatedly while the other man attacked from behind. Mr. Singh was almost pulled from the car, but this was prevented by the wife of one of the men and Mr. Singh’s seatbelt. Mr. Singh was able to escape while the two men were distracted by the wife’s efforts. Mr. Singh suffered significant injuries, including a fracture to his eye socket.

The West Sacramento Police were able to find the assailants because the wife who intervened lost her cell phone in the process. The police used the phone and fingerprints collected from the victim’s blood to find two suspects, and a series of interviews established the roles of the two men in the attack. The man with the greater part in the attack pled to the assault and the “hate crime” enhancement and was given a 13 year sentence, due in part to his conviction for a prior assault.

Mr. Singh did nothing to provoke this vicious attack except to be from a different culture. Attacking someone because of their race, religion or other protected basis is not only heinous, but against the ideals we hold as Americans, and must not be tolerated. My office remains committed to diligently prosecuting this type of crime.

Information on hate crime statistics may be found in the latest report by the Attorney General.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day: June 15th, 2011

This week we observe World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15th. Elder abuse is a very disturbing topic and one that must be addressed as our senior population continues to grow. Each year, one to two million elderly people are injured, exploited or mistreated by someone they depend upon for care or protection. Elder abuse can include physical, psychological, financial, emotional abuse or simply neglect. The sad irony is that those chosen to protect the elderly are usually the ones who cause the abuse.

Here are some important statistics:

  • In 2010, California led the country with 632,693 cases of reported elder abuse, accounting for nearly 11% of all elder abuse cases.
  • Two-thirds of offenders are family members or caregivers.
  • The elderly (65+) population will more than double, from 3.6 million in 2000 to 8.3 million by 2030 in California.
  • By 2030, one in every five persons in the country will be a senior citizen.

One county that is taking a proactive approach is Napa County. Recently, they adopted an ordinance that requires caregivers to pass a criminal background check and pay for an annual permit in order to care for seniors or disabled persons. Other counties are sure to follow their lead in developing new methods to help prevent elder abuse and ensure the safety of our senior citizens.

There are reporting agencies in each state to receive and investigate allegations of elder abuse or neglect. If you suspect an elderly person is being abused, please call the National Center on Elder Abuse at 1-202-898-2586, or call your county Adult Protective Services agency. And if someone you know has been a victim of elder abuse and they cannot pay for crime-related expenses, please call the CalVCP Victim Helpline at 1.800.777.9229.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

National Internet Safety Month

June is National Internet Safety Month, an important observance in today’s technology-savvy world. As a parent of a teenager myself, I find this issue to be extremely relevant. With social networks rapidly attracting a younger age demographic, child abuse online is increasing. In 2009, CalVCP received 13,580 applications involving child abuse, including underage victims who met their predator online. Research shows online abuse can quickly lead to in-person interactions since many internet offenders disguise their age and then invite children into their home. These offenses are why CalVCP is committed to spreading awareness to keep children safe from online abuse.

Last week a headline came across my desk that caught my attention, “7 charged in gang rape of 2 minors in Santa Paula [Southern California].” Upon further reading, I discovered that these men met the minors online, through a social networking website. Many teens are willing to meet with strangers. 16 percent of teens considered meeting someone they've only talked to online and eight percent have actually met someone they only knew online. 52 percent of teens have given out personal information online to someone they don't know offline including personal photos and/or physical descriptions of themselves (Enough.org).

I find these statistics quite frightening. It’s why this month CalVCP encourages all parents and guardians to be diligent and learn how to protect our children from becoming victims of internet crimes. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has suggestions for the best ways to protect and monitor a computer-savvy minor. Here are some of their tips:

  • If you have reason to suspect your child is viewing inappropriate sites, do not overact. Approach your children with respect.
  • Always maintain access to your child's online account and frequently check his/her account.
  • Teach your children about responsible use of the resources on the Internet.
  • Instruct your children never to arrange face-to-face meetings with someone they met online and not to respond to messages or bulletin board postings that are suggestive, obscene, or harassing.
  • Tell your children to NEVER give out identifying information such as name, address, school name or telephone number to people they don't know.

As we observe National Internet Safety Month, we will be posting internet safety tips on our Twitter and Facebook pages. Let us continue to be cautious and keep our children safe from online predators and bullies. I encourage you to learn how to use social media, so you understand how these platforms are being exploited to hurt children. I hope you and your children will continue to make safe choices online.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Victim’s Impact Statement: Let the Healing Begin

Yesterday, the horrific ordeal that Jaycee Dugard and her family have experienced reached its final day in court—the sentencing of Phillip and Nancy Garrido. And while we have all waited for this day since news broke that Jaycee was found in August of 2009, the journey of healing for a victim goes far beyond the judicial process.

Many speculated whether or not Jaycee would make an appearance in court to address her offenders. In the end, it was her mother who spoke on her behalf, much like she did the years that Jaycee was missing. In today’s statement, Terry Probyn conveyed how Jaycee “hated every second of her 18 years in captivity” and how her “life was stolen.” It is her right to be heard, as we saw last week when another kidnap victim, Elizabeth Smart, stepped up to have final words for Brian David Mitchell.

A victim’s impact statement, delivered at the time of sentencing, is part of the healing process. It grants the victim an opportunity to articulate the pain, anguish, and financial devastation the crime has caused. Often, sadly, it’s just a family member who is left to speak of the memory of their loved ones.

Consider Elizabeth Smart as she delivered her powerful statement. Victims and survivors everywhere heard her say, “Today is the ending of a very long chapter and the beginning of a very beautiful chapter for me.” At the same time, she used the opportunity to bring awareness to the other thousands of missing children who have not made it home…yet.

We all know the Jaycee Dugard and Elizabeth Smart cases have gained international press attention, but the process for the victim is the same regardless of the scope of the crime and notoriety.

For a victim and their family, due justice can be a long and arduous journey. CalVCP understands this and is committed more than ever to assist victims through the process. This includes support for mental health and dental expenditures, funeral and burial costs as well as wage and income loss for up to five years following the date of the crime. There’s no doubt that violent crime has a long lasting financial impact on the victim and we are here to help at every step along the way.

While a victim impact statement at sentencing doesn’t close the book on what happened…it can be the unofficial beginning to a family’s healing process. And something we all can learn from. CalVCP also supports victims with this process, connecting them with advocates and offering assistance with financial loss experienced with the crime. Among the crimes covered are domestic violence, child abuse, sexual and physical assault, homicide, and robbery. CalVCP has provided over $2 billion to assist victims of crime since its inception in 1965. More information on the program can be found at calvcp.ca.gov.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Pausing for National Missing Children’s Day

One missing child is one child too many.
By Julie Nauman, VCGCB Executive Officer

After 18 years without her daughter, Jaycee Dugard’s mother, Terry Probyn, “enjoyed every minute” of their reunion in 2009. “[Terry’s] like a little mother hen right now,” said Dugard’s grandmother. Hopelessness and endless heartache is felt by many when a child goes missing, but great joy abounds when just one is found.

Twenty-eight years ago President Ronald Regan proclaimed May 25th National Missing Children’s Day. The day marks the anniversary in 1979 when 6-year-old Etan Patz disappeared from a New York street corner on his way to school. Nearly 30 years later, a strong collaborative effort exists among law enforcement agencies, advocacy groups, and private organizations that help locate and recover missing children.

Many creative platforms are emerging to further awareness including various internet and wireless phone campaigns. NetSmartz.org uses the internet to teach children safety awareness and empower them to make responsible decisions online and in real life. Facebook and the U.S. Department of Justice AMBER Alert Program have joined together for Facebook users to receive instant feed of abduction alerts. Wireless phone users can sign up for the Wireless AMBER Alerts, and this 24-hour hotline is available to report a missing child, seek assistance in locating a child, or report the sighting of a missing child.

The California Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP) approaches child safety and victim recovery with great care. Last year, CalVCP assisted nearly 23,000 child victims of abuse, assault and sexual assault, some also being victims of abduction. We stand committed to doing all we can to assist each one in recovery.

Let us continue to make child safety and assistance a priority. Together with first responders, community activists, government groups, mothers, fathers and families, we can make a great difference working side by side. It is my hope the others missing in our state be found quickly so they too can be reunited with their families and share the joy that Jaycee and her mother now enjoy.

Monday, May 16, 2011

First Responders: Lives Depend on Them

By Julie Nauman, VCGCB Executive Officer

Being the first line of defense to save lives and protect the public is no small task. Without first responders such as EMTs, firefighters, and law enforcement, lives would be lost. It’s that simple.

I am proud to recognize these heroic officers during National Police Week (observed May 15-21) which honors those first responders who protect the public while risking their own lives on a daily basis.

California’s law enforcement know all too well what it means to be first on the scene of a DUI crash, murder, rape or even a child abuse case. Time is critical and lives are at stake, and emotions are high.

Despite the chaos and the panic, many first responders are able to calm a desperate situation and get the victim the help they need at that moment and beyond. First responders help to inform victims and their families of CalVCP’s services by providing them with a first responder card at the crime scene.

These cards give victims and their families a number to call for help with funeral expenses, counseling, medical treatment and even crime scene clean up. Being able to provide victims with resources upfront is an important step toward recovery.

Assisting and treating victims is a group effort. From the first responders, to the County victim assistance centers, to the District Attorneys and the medical professionals, victims are treated with dedication, professionalism and the utmost respect.

As we observe National Police Week, I would like to take a moment to publicly thank our dedicated officers for the great work they do. Without them, we would not be able to reach the many victims that need CalVCP’s services.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Remembering Victims of 9/11

Recent events in the news have turned our thoughts to the hundreds of September 11 victims residing in California. All four planes that were hijacked on September 11, 2001, were headed to California – three to Los Angeles and one to San Francisco. United Airlines Flight 175 and American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center. American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon and United Airlines Flight 93, which was en route to San Francisco, crashed just outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Upon hearing of the horrific attacks, the VCGCB took immediate action to provide assistance to victims and their families. Emergency legislation enabled us to provide aid to the victims and to help Californians deal with the trauma and aftermath of the attacks. The VCGCB also took action to receive federal grant money from the federal Office for Victims of Crime. These grants provided additional benefits and funding for peer support group meetings for the next three years for the victims in Northern and Southern California.

The VCGCB reached out to those in need by expanding the programs call center to handle increased communications, developing a special newsletter for 9/11 victims to enhance communications, and translating hate crime fact sheets into seven languages to better serve those in need. We also partnered with the California State Bar Association to provide pro bono legal assistance to victims in need of these services. In addition, the VCGCB collaborated with national assistance programs such as the Red Cross and United Way to identify the varying needs of victims and potential resources.

CalVCP has paid out over $4 million in assistance to family members and survivors to provide mental health treatment, funeral and burial expenses, income and support loss as well as other benefits. It is difficult to comprehend the pain and tragedy experienced by these victims. They have traveled a long and difficult path in learning how to accept and live with this experience. Their courage and resilience are inspiring.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Advocating for Our Children

By Julie Nauman, VCGCB Executive Officer

It is hard to imagine that anyone would want to do anything but love, protect and nurture a child. Unfortunately, crimes are committed to even the most innocent of victims. As we recognize April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month, CalVCP has renewed our commitment to help those who have been affected by this terrible crime.

Child abuse can impact a child’s life well into adulthood. Statistics show that child abuse fuels crime and has adverse health effects. Fortunately, there are many organizations that are helping our children through advocacy, safety, education, research, and assistance programs. Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA) is one such non-profit organization. With chapters all over the world, this international organization exists with the intent to create a safer environment for abused children and empower and strengthen children to not feel afraid. A wounded child who has had a BACA intervention is 4 times more likely to testify in court. In fact most BACA children have improved self-confidence, diminished regressive behavior, increased feelings of safety, willingness to communicate, reduced feelings of guilt, decreased “acting out” behaviors, independence, and much more.

California takes crimes committed against young people very seriously and is dedicated to helping our children receive assistance. CalVCP provides assistance to victims of many crimes related to child abuse such as molest, corporal injury, illegal sexual intercourse, endangerment, rape, pornography and incest among others.

More than ever, our program is committed to aiding children as quickly as possible. Consequently, over the last two years CalVCP assisted nearly 14,000 child abuse victims paying over $22 million in assistance. Last year alone, CalVCP provided over $10 million in assistance for the costs of mental health treatment, nearly half a million dollars to pay for relocation and almost $200,000 for medical expenses.

It is important for us to do our part in staying informed and educated, and most importantly, to recognize the warning signs of child abuse. Please take some time to educate yourself through the various resources available by visiting www.preventchildabuse.org or www.bacaworld.org. I hope you will join me in recognizing April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month. May we further educate ourselves, consider volunteering, and support prevention programs!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Reshaping the Future, Honoring the Past

As we recognize and honor National Crime Victim Rights Week we are reminded of the impact violent crime has and of the victims it leaves behind.

Last year, nearly 175,000 violent crimes were reported in California. And with each crime, countless lives have been turned upside down. We often see much attention spent on the cause or significance of the crime itself or even on the offender and the why and how of the crime, but we must not neglect the victims these crimes leave behind.

In California, there are a variety of programs and services offered that victims of crimes may receive to help in their recovery. Services to help protect, guide, compensate and aid victims of crime are available. Since 1965, the California Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP) has been assisting victims of violent crime and to date, has helped thousands of victims and provided more than $2 billion in compensation for victims in the state.

Victims of violent crime endure significant trauma and the process to find help, whether it be for monetary, relocation or mental health assistance, should be as smooth as possible. At CalVCP, we are working diligently to make our program more accessible, more responsive and more efficient.

I am proud of the work that takes place here at the CalVCP and I am also proud of the many government partners such as the California Emergency Management Agency, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the Department of Justice that help us provide aid to victims and their families.

A number of nonprofit groups have played key roles in protecting and assisting victims of crime and have helped make California a nation leader in providing victim services. Organizations such as the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault have helped thousands of sexual assault victims find assistance and find a voice against this horrific crime. There are a number of victim advocate groups throughout the state that have provided much needed services to California’s victims as well. Organizations like the Crime Victim Action Alliance and Crime Victims United of California are great examples of how nonprofit groups are helping to provide assistance to crime victims. I am proud to have them as partners in our daily outreach to victims of crime in California.

Although California continues to be a leader in all services for victims of crime, there is still much work to be done. Thanks to legislation such as Marcy’s Law, Amber’s Law and the Victims’ Bill of Rights, those who have suffered as a result of a violent crime, have the help available to assist them in all aspects of their victimization. At CalVCP, we will continue to work with our partners and sister State agencies to provide the help, compassion and services for California’s victims of violent crime.

For more information on National Crime Victim Rights Week or the California Victim Compensation Program visit us at www.calvcp.ca.gov.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Discussing Erroneous Conviction Claims

Over the last decade the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board has heard 55 claims regarding erroneous convictions, otherwise known as “PC4900’s”. These claims are based on Penal Code sections 4900 through 4906 that allow any person who has been erroneously convicted of a felony and imprisoned in a California State Prison to be eligible for compensation from the State. A great amount of effort goes into hearing these claims and this Board takes the responsibility of approving or denying these claims very seriously as it follows both the intent and purpose of this state law. Of those 55 claims heard by the Board, 11 were approved, providing total compensation of over $3.2 million dollars to claimants.

The Erroneously Convicted Person statutes (PC4900) were first enacted in 1913.  Until the year 2000, compensation was limited to a maximum of $10,000; however, the law was then changed to allow compensation of $100 for each day served in prison after the conviction, with no maximum limit.

The erroneous conviction claim process is complicated and often misunderstood. The claimants must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he or she did not commit the crime that resulted in his or her conviction and incarceration, and that he or she did not intentionally contribute to the arrest or conviction.  The State Legislature created this legislation so that a preponderance of the evidence is just enough evidence to make it more likely than not that the claimant is innocent of the crime.

Some of the misunderstanding comes when an Appellate Court overturns a conviction for reasons such as jury misconduct, improper jury instructions, incompetence of counsel, etc. This ruling does not mean the defendant is innocent, it only means that there was a procedural flaw resulting in the defendant not receiving a fair or adequate trial, and as a result the conviction is overturned.

Although the Board heard only 55 claims over the past 10 years, 132 claims were filed. Many claims are wrongfully filed and do not meet the criteria of the law. This usually means the claimant never went to prison, was never convicted, or waited too long to file a claim.  There are also cases where claimants voluntarily withdraw their claim.

When the Board receives an Erroneous Conviction claim, the California Attorney General’s office is provided a copy along with supporting documentation for their review.  The Attorney General then conducts an investigation into the merits of the claim.

The Board allows the Attorney General sufficient time to review these claims because there is often a considerable amount of evidence to take into consideration.  If not for the Attorney General’s participation in the claims process, the hearing officer likely would not be provided a complete record of the facts relevant to the claim.

Following the investigation, the Attorney General provides a summary of the facts and a recommendation to the Board which is reviewed by the Board’s Hearing Officer.  If the Attorney General believes that the claimant has met his or her burden, the Hearing Officer will take that recommendation into consideration when conducting the hearing and writing the proposed decision. If the Attorney General believes that the claim should not be granted, they have the right to oppose the claim at the hearing by offering contrary evidence and by examining the claimant. Following the hearing, the Hearing Officer prepares a recommendation for the Board. The Board then conducts a hearing and renders its decision.

Obviously, the PC4900 process is considerably different than the burden of proof in a criminal trial where the prosecutor must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  When a defendant is acquitted by a judge or jury, they are found “not guilty.”  A “not guilty” verdict does not mean that the defendant is innocent; it only means that the prosecution failed to meet its burden of proof.  The jury may believe that the defendant is probably guilty, or even quite likely guilty, but unless they are convinced of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt based on the evidence presented by the prosecution, they must render a “not guilty” verdict.

Each PC4900 claim has its own unique set of circumstances, each with its own facts and evidence, all of which need to be closely examined and considered. The Board applies the statutes and case law to these claims and ultimately makes a determination on whether the claimant has met their burden of proof.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Working Toward Healing

Last month, CalVCP received a letter announcing it was the recipient of a donation of nearly sixteen thousand dollars from two California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) work programs and was to be honored at a ceremony at the N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton. While thrilled by the donation, I hesitated at first on the decision to attend the presentation at a correctional facility out of respect for victims and their families. However, as I learned more about the program, I felt compelled to participate and meet the young men who chose CalVCP as the beneficiary of this donation.

For those not familiar, CALPIA is an inmate work program that provides productive job opportunities for inmates in California correctional institutions. Its primary function is to rehabilitate inmates and facilitate their successful reentry into society. Many times they partner with outside private firms, in this case Free Venture Program (FVP), to learn computer repair, welding and other trade skills. And while this work may help inmates with their own healing process, it is also mandated by law that twenty percent of their earned wage be donated to victim service organizations. As they get paid, these offenders are reminded they owe a debt to their victims, and to society as a whole, for the criminal choices they made.

The youth offenders who donated this money are serving time for crimes like sexual assault and other serious felony convictions. While getting intense treatment, all are learning new skills to help them adjust to the outside world as well as a new way of thinking about their crimes and the impact they have had on their victims.

The money from CALPIA’s donation was raised by youth offenders at two California Division of Juvenile Justice facilities who participated with FVP. This unique program allows incarcerated juvenile offenders to work for private sector companies from within correctional facilities and earn a wage comparable to what they would make outside the facility for the same job. Those participating in the program pay taxes, room and board, and family support.

At the donation presentation ceremony, I listened to these young offenders talk about the pride they take in their work and the joy they find by being able to earn a paycheck, pay for child support and meet their obligation to pay restitution. Some got up and talked about a fresh start for themselves and their families. Others discussed how helping the people they hurt the most—the innocent victims, is the best part of the program. I realized—they were working to heal as well.

While this contribution came from an unlikely source, I was more than pleased to accept it on behalf of the crime victims of California. The money will go directly toward helping victims heal, by reimbursing them for crime-related costs such as mental health treatments and funeral bills. These youth offenders are now, in effect, helping other crime victims through their generous donation and we hope the lessons they have learned will resonate in the community and help reduce crime and its impact on victims.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Meeting Budgetary Needs

Last week, members of the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board made some very difficult decisions regarding the services CalVCP provides. These decisions, while not easy, were necessary in the face of a diminishing Restitution Fund. For the past few years the amount of revenue received from restitution fines, orders and penalties has declined. For FY 2010-11 the Governor’s budget estimates our revenues will be down by 3%, while claim payments are projected to increase by 2.1%.  At this pace without budget reductions, the Restitution Fund will be $4.2 million in the red by June 2012 and have a $36.2 million negative balance by June 2013.

 In an effort to assure that the Board can continue to compensate victims of crime, the Governor’s Budget for FY 2011-12 calls for more than $5.8 million in savings which includes a $2.2 million savings in operating expenses and a reduction in Joint Power (JP) and Criminal Restitution Compact (CRC) local assistance program contracts of $700,000. It also places a cap on the growth rate of benefit payments to victims of 2.5 percent for claims from FY 2010-11 to FY 2011-12. However, even with these proposed savings in the Governor’s budget, the Restitution Fund would still have a deficit of $20.3 million in 2013.

 That is why the Board took decisive actions and voted on measures that will provide a savings of $15.7 million and better align the program benefit payments with its revenues. Specifically, the Board voted to:
  • Limit chiropractic, physical and occupational therapy to a combined total of five sessions and require a physician’s recommendation for additional sessions up to a maximum of 20 sessions.
  • Limit income and support loss benefits to victims who are actually employed at the time of the crime and require income and tax records to verify income.
  • Establish a maximum benefit of $30,000 for vehicle purchase, renovation and retrofitting per qualifying crime.
  • Determine appropriateness of attorney fee limit of payment in statute and prepare a regulation that requires verification of the reasonable value of legal services provided to an applicant.
  • Establish a maximum benefit for funeral and burial expenses of $5,000 and remove food and beverages as reimbursable expenses.
  • Establish a maximum benefit amount of $63,000.
  • Reduce the CalVCP medical reimbursement rate to the flat Medicare rate and reduce restorative cosmetic surgery, prosthetics, hearing aids and eyeglasses, and foreign provider rates by 20%.
  • Reduce the CalVCP mental health reimbursement rate by 10%.
  • Continue the reduction of the reimbursement rate for mental health services provided by interns adopted by the Board on December 16, 2010 and implemented by staff in January 2011.
These actions adopted by the Board along with the other cost savings measures that the Board has already implemented such as reducing our administrative costs, holding positions vacant, limiting outreach and training and travel expenditures, will allow CalVCP to realize a balance of approximately $14 million by 2013. We will continue to work with our stakeholders on finding more long-term solutions to ensure solvency of the Restitution Fund for years to come so that we may continue to provide vital services to victims of violent crime in California.