Crime Victim Compensation
victim compensation provides greatly needed financial assistance
for crime victims in the aftermath of victimization. The first
compensation program in the United States was created in California
in 1965. Today, all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and
the Virgin Islands, have compensation programs. This chapter will
discuss compensable costs, eligibility requirements, the size
and structure of compensation programs, and the impact
of the Victims of Crime Act on state programs.
Upon completion of this chapter, students will understand the
1. The definition and purpose of crime victim compensation.
2. "Core" offenses that are generally considered compensable
3. Primary compensation costs covered by all victim compensation
4. Requirements established by compensation programs that determine
a victim's eligibility to receive benefits.
5. How victims can receive compensation through application procedures.
The above information was provided by the National
Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards and reflect information
provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims
of Crime, 1996.
Compensation for victims of crime is one of the earliest forms
of victim assistance. Ancient history traces the idea of victim
compensation to the Babylonian civilization before 2380 B.C. In
the 1950s, Margery Fry, a member of parliament in England, initiated
legislation to establish the first compensation program in modern
In this country, the first compensation program was established
in California in 1965. By 1980, 28 additional states had created
programs. By 1995, all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia
and the Virgin Islands, have established compensation programs.
The state compensation programs are represented by the National
Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards (NACVCB), a national
organization that provides advocacy, training, technical assistance,
and communication among state programs. The NACVCB provides a
strong national voice on all matters affecting state compensation
programs before Congress and the Office for Victims of Crime.
In addition, it provides extensive training to its members on
a wide range of issues facing programs today -- from administration
and funding matters to coverage of emerging areas of victimization.
Crime victim compensation is one of the pillars of victim assistance.
For thousands of crime victims each year, it serves as the primary
means of financial aid in the aftermath of victimization. While
restitution laws requiring reparations to crime victims date back
to the 1800s, there is one important distinction between these
two sources of financial relief for crime victims: crime victim
compensation does not require the apprehension and conviction
of the offender to provide financial relief to the victim.
Victim compensation is defined as:
"Money paid through a public fund to allow victims to receive
out-of-pocket expenses incurred as a result of a violent crime
perpetrated against them." (National Victim Center, 1992)
This chapter will provide an overview of the types of crimes, the compensable losses, and the eligibility requirements for victims in order to qualify for compensation. Each state program has been created under individual state laws; thus, the programs vary somewhat from state to state. Throughout this chapter, attempts will be made to summarize characteristics common among most state programs.
The information in this chapter has been excerpted largely from
various publications produced by the NACVCB including: Crime
Victim Compensation: A Fact Sheet and Crime Victim Compensation:
The NACVCB provides this information with the following caveat:
"While there are many characteristics of state programs that
are common to all states, it is important to emphasize that each
compensation program offers additional and unique benefits and
has other requirements. You need to check with the compensation
program in your state to gain a full understanding of the eligibility
requirements and the benefits for victims, as well as information
on how crime victims can apply for compensation."
Total Benefits Paid by Compensation Programs Nationwide
Nationwide, the amount of compensation payments is the following:
Size of Compensation Programs
The size of state compensation programs is relatively small for state agencies:
Location of Compensation Programs
Compensation programs, with the exception of Arizona and Colorado,
are administered in central state offices. According to the NACVCB,
the largest number of state programs are affiliated with criminal-justice
related executive branch agencies (one-third), within Offices
of Attorneys General (one-fifth), and independent state agencies
(one-fifth). Workers' compensation bureaus house five programs,
and other programs are affiliated with corrections departments,
social services agencies, and finance and management departments.
Four states operate their programs within court systems.
While governed by state law, Colorado and Arizona operate compensation
programs at the local level through prosecutors' offices. Each
of 22 judicial districts in Colorado has a compensation board,
and each of Arizona's 15 counties operates a program.
While the extent and types of crimes that are eligible for state
compensation benefits differ slightly from state to state, most
programs include a basic "core" of offenses. According
to research conducted by an NIJ-sponsored study entitled Compensating
Crime Victims: A Summary of Policies and Practices (Parent,
Auerbach, and Carlson, 1992), about three fourths of the state
statutes define compensable crimes in the following language:
Criminally injurious conduct that occurs, or is attempted in a
state, and poses a substantial threat of personal injury or death,
and is punishable by a fine, imprisonment, or death.
In general, victims of personal violence, sexual assault or abuse
qualify for compensation, while victims of most property crimes
do not qualify. A further explanation of these distinctions is
It is important to emphasize that compensation programs are considered
"payers of last resort," meaning that the victim must
exhaust all other sources of insurance or public benefits that
could pay for medical care, funeral benefits, counseling, etc.
Historically, this principle has been incorporated into each state's
program because compensation was thought to supplement existing
resources of the victim, not to serve as an automatic "payment"
in response to victimization.
Compensation programs are "subrogated" to the victim
for any expenses the victim recovers from the offender or a third
party. NACVCB explains:
"If the victim recovers any money from the offender or any
other party liable for the victim's expenses, the compensation
program must be paid back for that portion of the expenses for
which the program has paid. Generally, if the victim's losses
are greater than the amount paid for by the compensation program,
the program will expect repayment only after those other losses
are fully reimbursed. In other words, if the victim's total losses
are $100,000, and the compensation program awards $10,000, the
amounts recovered otherwise by the victim by other recoveries
can go to pay for the remaining $90,000 in losses before the compensation
program needs to be repaid."
Coverage of Domestic Violence and Drunk Driving
For many years, domestic violence and drunk driving victims were
excluded from receiving compensation in most states. The domestic
violence exclusion emanated because of concerns that compensation
awards to battered women would benefit the battering spouse by
not holding him financially accountable for his
crime. There also was the chance that the offender could benefit
from a compensation award if the offender and victim continued
to live together. Victims of drunk driving crashes were excluded
because drunk driving was not considered a violent crime and because
of fears of overtaxing the financial resources of state compensation
Amendments to the Victims of Crime Act, which provides
about 20% of the funding for state programs, required that states
cover domestic violence and drunk driving as compensable crimes
According to the NACVCB, all compensation programs cover the same
major types of expenses, although their specific limits may vary.
The primary compensable costs covered by all states are as follows:
The majority of compensation payments statewide are paid to victims
for the above expenses. For example:
In addition, a number of other expenses are paid for by some, but not all, programs, including:
In order to qualify for crime victim compensation, certain eligibility
requirements must be met by the individual filing the claim. Again,
eligibility requirements vary from state-to-state. However,
every state requires that victims follow certain critical criminal
justice-related provisions or application filing procedures in
order to qualify.
According to NACVCB, all programs require that the victim must:
An important aspect of compensation is the eligibility of a victim's
dependents or other secondary victims. Generally eligibility for
these victims depends on the eligibility of the "direct"
victim -- the one who suffered the injury or death. If a homicide
victim was engaged in criminal activity, for example, the family
generally would not be eligible for any benefits.
Many, but not all compensation programs have established emergency
award provisions allowing the program to make an emergency award
to a victim within a few days or weeks. However, there is a trend
away from granting emergency awards due to the difficulty of verifying
the claims under such expedited situations. Most programs now
limit emergency awards to cases of extreme hardship, and because
of the delays in processing other claims when staff must attend
to emergency requests. Emergency awards are also limited to relatively
Jurisdiction and Filing Claims
Victims must apply for compensation in the state where the crime
occurs. Until the passage of the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA)
in 1984, state programs had set up a complicated nationwide system
of reciprocity agreements between states for covering out-of-state
victims that became crime victims while visiting their state.
In order to qualify for federal VOCA payments, states have been
required for the last decade to cover residents and nonresident,
including victims of federal crimes. Of course, victims have to
meet the eligibility requirements of the state statutes.
The NACVCB states:
Maximums and Limits
Every state program has established a limit on the maximum benefits
available to victims. Nationwide the following maximum benefits
The Application Process
Victims typically learn about crime victim compensation programs
from local victim assistance providers, police, prosecutors, and
public awareness activities (posters, billboards, and/or public
service announcements) conducted by the state program. For many
crime victims, missing the application filing deadline is one
of the most painful "second injuries" in the aftermath
of victimization. State programs generally have very strict policies
on application deadlines, and do not accept late applications
-- usually one year after the crime. However, exceptions are made
in almost all states for crimes involving child sexual abuse cases
-- extending the filing deadline for "just cause."
While compensation programs have instituted many policies and
programs for "getting information out statewide" about
their programs, this is an area that needs greater improvement
on the part of compensation programs. However, with many programs
facing limited resources to make payouts, it presents a "double
edged sword" when public awareness campaigns increase demands
on existing programs.
According to NACVCB:
Decision-making authority varies from state to state:
Funding of Compensation Programs
State compensation programs receive funding from a variety of sources. However, there are two primary sources on the state level that fund programs:
According to NACVCB, more than four-fifths of the states are in
the first category, gaining most of their income from offenders.
In fact, in a large majority of states, no tax dollars are involved
at all in either the administration of the program or in the awards
given to victims.
An additional funding issue facing compensation programs today
is recovering restitution from convicted offenders in order to
help offset the cost of providing compensation benefits to their
victims. This is described as "fund recovery" measures
-- holding offenders and others liable for injury to victims,
and making them pay for the consequences of their crimes. Some
state programs are making special efforts to seek restitution
from offenders and are working with prosecutors and judges to
ensure restitution is ordered and collected, as well as monitoring
restitution payments. However, fund recovery remains a small source
of total program income thus far, with only a few programs beginning
to recover more than 10% of their awards.
Recent Trends in Compensation
In some states, claims doubled, tripled, and even quadrupled in the period from 1985-1992. The greater visibility of the programs, the growth in other victim services, and new laws mandating that rights, services and information be provided to victims have resulted in more and more victims applying for help.
Victims of Crime Act
With the enactment of the Victims of Crime Act of 1984, (amended), state compensation programs can receive federal VOCA funds that equal 40% of the previous year's compensation award amounts paid by the state funds.
The funding formula for compensation programs works in the following
For every 100 state dollars spent, the program will receive 40
federal dollars through a grant process that will make the funds
available a little over a year after the end of the fiscal year
upon which the calculation is based. This theoretically results
in a 72%/28% state-to-federal mix of money (out of every $140
dollars available, $100 will be state, and $40 will be federal),
but since most programs are paying more in awards each year, the
federal funds will be proportionately less of the total by the
time they are available. States also must bear the entire burden
of their administrative budgets, since none of the VOCA funds
can be used for administration. (NACVCB)
To qualify for federal funding, states must meet the following VOCA requirements:
The VOCA grant program is administered by the Office for Victims
of Crime within the U.S. Justice Department, which also provides
valuable technical assistance to state compensation programs.
With the passage of VOCA, as stated previously, victims of crimes
that occur under federal jurisdiction, such as on Indian reservations,
military installations, national parks, or other federal lands,
are eligible for compensation in the state in which the crime
Since there is no federal crime victim compensation program, each
state treats federal crime victims as fully eligible for all the
benefits available for victims of state and local crimes. Compensation
programs depend on the help of federal victim/witness coordinators
in informing federal victims of their opportunity to apply for
Self Examination Chapter 9
Crime Victim Compensation
1) Generally, what is the range of maximum benefits
available to victims from compensation programs?
2) Which states do not have victim compensation programs?
3) What are the five primary compensable costs covered
by all states?
4) What is "unjust enrichment?"
5) What are the two principal state sources and one federal source of funding for victim compensation programs?
National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards Publication
What is Crime Victim Compensation?
Crime victim compensation programs can pay for the otherwise-unreimbursed
expenses victims of violent crime incur as a direct result of
their personal injuries. These programs, which operate through
state and local governments, pay for medical expenses, mental
health counseling, lost wages, and funeral expenses, and for loss
of support for a victim's dependents.
Property loss (damaged or stolen property) is usually not covered,
with the exception of eyeglasses, hearing aids and other medical
devices. Compensation is awarded only when other sources of payment,
such as medical or auto insurance, other public benefits, or restitution,
are not readily available to the victim. Maximum benefits generally
range between $10,000 and $25,000, although a few states have
higher or lower maximums. (Nationally, the average amount paid
to each victim applying for compensation is about $2,000.) About
$250 million is being paid to more than 125,000 victims nationwide
Why is it so Important?
While no amount of money can erase the trauma and grief suffered
by crime victims, financial assistance can be crucial in helping
many people through the recovery process. For some victims, these
funds can help preserve the stability and dignity of their lives.
How Many States have Crime Victim Compensation?
How Many Countries?
All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands
have active victim compensation programs. (There is no federal
compensation program, but federal funds supplement the states'
funds, and victims of federal crimes are fully eligible in the
states where the crimes occur.) Each state conducts its program
according to its own law, but most of the programs are similar
in scope and operation. A number of other countries operate compensation
programs, including Britain, Germany, Japan, Canada, Australia,
and New Zealand.
What are the Eligibility Requirements for Victims
and their Families?
In general, the victim must be innocent of criminal activity and
"contributory misconduct," report the crime promptly
to the police, cooperate with the criminal justice system, and
submit a timely application. A conviction of the offender is not
required. Victims are eligible regardless of whether the crime
is under federal, state or military jurisdiction. The victim is
eligible in the state where the crime took place, regardless of
whether the victim is a resident of that state.
How Does the Application Process Work?
Typically, a victim may receive a compensation application from
a prosecutor's office or police department, or by contacting the
compensation program itself. The help of victim advocates in providing
applications and assistance in filing is vital to the process,
since most compensation programs operate with very small staffs.
Once completed, the application is submitted to the compensation
program in the state where the crime occurred. The program staff
verifies the information, obtains police reports to confirm the
circumstances of the crime, and notifies the victim concerning
the victim's eligibility and what expenses can be paid. The victim
may appeal the decision.
Where Does the Money Come from to Pay the Claims?
In two-thirds of the states, no tax dollars are involved. All
the money for compensation to victims comes from fines, penalties,
court costs, or other assessments against convicted criminals.
For example, a state might require each convicted felon to pay
$25 into the compensation fund, or might assess a $3 surcharge
on all moving traffic violations. About a third of states use
general appropriations and criminal fees. In addition, the federal
Crime Victims Fund - financed entirely from federal criminal fines
and fees - provides supplemental funds to each state.
What about Victims Injured in Crimes in Foreign
Some states will cover their own residents when injured outside
the United States, but many cannot, since their laws limit their
coverage only to crimes occurring within their own borders. While
a number of foreign countries operate compensation programs, benefits
may be limited and difficult to access.
Where can I get More Information?
Contact the program in your state or call the National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards at (703) 370-2996.
National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards. Crime
victim compensation: A fact sheet. Washington, DC: Author.
National Association of Crime Victims Compensation Boards. Crime
victim compensation: An overview. Washington, DC: Author.
National Victim Center (1992). State compensation laws. INFOLINK,
National Victim Center (1994). Focus on the future: A prosecutor's
guide to victim assistance. Washington, DC: U.S. Department
of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime.
Parent, Auerbach, & Carlson (1992). Compensating crime
victims: A summary of policies and practices. Washington,
DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Justice Programs, National
Institute of Justice.
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