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Victims' Rights

Traditionally preoccupied with prosecuting criminals, the criminal justice system often has neglected to fully acknowledge the rights of victims. However, recently great progress has been made toward incorporating victims' rights and issues into the process. To further this progress, OVC has funded several initiatives to raise awareness of victims' rights and generate support for victims. The projects also support OVC's training and education efforts as well as the development of programs that help victims understand and assert their rights.

National Crime Victim Law Institute

The National Crime Victim Law Institute is establishing nine legal clinics (eight state-level clinics and one federal clinic) to enforce victims' rights from case intake through resolution. This demonstration effort will encourage the replication of a national model to both improve state compliance with victims' rights and increase victims' access to resources that can help them assert their rights. The institute is forming partnerships with law schools and other nonprofit organizations.

Because many attorneys lack knowledge about victims' rights, the institute will train them on victims' rights and effective legal strategies for victims. The institute is also enhancing and formalizing collaboration among victim lawyers through the National Alliance of Victim's Rights Attorneys. OVC is providing multiyear funding for this initiative and plans to provide extensive technical assistance to other U.S. jurisdictions that are interested in replicating the program after its pilot test and evaluation. For more information, visit the National Crime Victim Law Institute Web site.

State Legislature Victim Education Project

OVC recognizes the importance of providing state legislators with comprehensive information that informs their efforts to address victims' issues. In 2002, OVC initiated the State Legislature Victim Education Project, which is being conducted by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). This project is educating state and local legislators and others about victims' needs by compiling, publishing, and distributing a legislator's guide, and providing substantive descriptions of key areas of law that address victims' rights and services in the states. NCSL is tracking major policy trends in victims' rights legislation and published a report in 2003 entitled Victims' Rights Legislation in the 21st Century. NCSL also produced a snapshot of each state's victim-related laws in 2004—see "Victims' Rights State Legislation in 2004." A recent release, Enforcing and Evaluating Victims' Rights Laws summarizes state and federal actions to advance victims rights. For more details, visit the NCSL Web site.

Victims' Rights Compliance Project

OVC has recently awarded grants to the Oregon Department of Justice and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to support the planning, development, and implementation of statewide programs to facilitate compliance with state victims' rights laws. During the first year, the grantees will—

  • Conduct a needs assessment and obtain the necessary support from stakeholders for the initiative.
  • Plan and design a strategy to implement a compliance initiative that involves coordination and collaboration with victim service organizations and state and local criminal justice agencies.
  • Review and assess the status of victims' rights implementation in their states.
  • Design a tool that can be used to assess the success of the strategy's implementation if continuation funding is awarded.

Each grantee will establish an advisory group at the outset to provide guidance and direction to the project. The project will involve and engage victims, victim service providers, advocacy groups, and criminal justice professionals in the program planning and design processes.

In the second and third years of the project, the grantees will implement their respective strategies, evaluate the effectiveness of their programs and refine them accordingly, design a plan for sustainability of the program, and produce reports documenting the development of the compliance programs to be published in an OVC bulletin.

Database of Federal, State, and Tribal Victims' Rights Laws

Before victims' rights can be fully enforced, victims, victim advocates, victim lawyers, criminal justice practitioners, and allied professionals must understand the relevant statutes and case law. In Fiscal Year 2003, OVC funded the National Center for Victims of Crime to create an online database of federal, state, and tribal victims' rights statutes, codes, and relevant case law. This mechanism will ensure that victim advocacy and service organizations, criminal justice practitioners, researchers, and others have easy access to continuously updated and vital rights-related information. Access to this information will help OVC, its grantees, other victim organizations, and criminal justice practitioners assess victims' rights laws, identify gaps in statutory protections, and prepare data-based training sessions. It will also help states identify model legislation. More importantly, the database will serve as a source of information for victims and their advocates that can be used to help victims exercise their rights.

Judicial Training Project

OVC's judicial training project is developing and pilot testing a comprehensive national training curriculum on victimization issues for judges and court personnel. The curriculum's learning modules will address—

  • The impact of crime on victims and their families.
  • Appropriate roles for victims in the justice process.
  • Sentencing orders and victim restitution.
  • The value and use of victim impact statements.
  • The use of technology to improve victim services and victims' access to the criminal justice process.
  • Victims' rights laws and their implementation.
  • Victim and community safety.
  • Special considerations for victims with disabilities, child victims, older victims, and non-English-speaking victims.

During the project's first phase, under the guidance of a multidisciplinary advisory group, the grantee will conduct a literature review and a training analysis and design the curriculum, including instructor and participant guides. The grantee will also pilot test the curriculum at six sites and collect evaluative data.

In subsequent phases, the grantee will—

  • Conduct six additional pilot tests.
  • Evaluate the training course and refine the curriculum.
  • Develop a benchbook for judges on victimization and a compendium of promising practices.
  • Design a comprehensive strategy for integrating the curriculum into continuing judicial education.

For more information, visit Justice Solutions, Inc.

Victims' Rights Education Project

The National Victim Constitutional Amendment Network (NVCAN), with support from OVC, has established the Victims' Rights Education Project. Under this project, NVCAN will examine the core rights that victims have throughout the United States and develop public education materials describing them. When completed, these materials can be adapted by state and community-based programs to inform victims of their statutory and constitutional rights and how to assert them. For more information, visit the NVCAN Web site.


Because statutes on paper are merely words until they are put into practice, OVC is committed to educating and supporting victims, victim advocates, victim/witness coordinators, prosecutors, judges, courts, and victims' rights attorneys through initiatives that facilitate victim access to the criminal justice system and build the capacity of victim service organizations to advocate for and uphold victims' rights.

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