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
With OVC funding, the National Crime Victim Law Institute (NCVLI) undertook a multiyear, national demonstration project to improve the capacity of attorneys to represent victims in the enforcement of their rights. Under this project, NCVLI worked with nonprofit agencies and organizations around the country to establish legal clinics that provide representation for crime victims in criminal court. Nine legal clinics have been established, eight of which represent victims in state court and one that represents victims in federal court. Each of the clinics has received funding for a total of 3 years and intensive technical assistance from NCVLI in the establishment and operation of the clinics and the representation of victims. Additionally, NCVLI provides assistance and support to victims and to attorneys across the country representing crime victims in the enforcement of their rights. NCVLI also is expanding a nationwide network of crime victim attorneys through its National Alliance of Victims’ Rights Attorneys. Under the project, NCVLI issues a semiannual newsletter that provides attorneys and others with information about victims' rights and convenes a national training conference for attorneys litigating on behalf of victims.
Under a second OVC-funded project, NCVLI is working to advance the enforcement of victims' rights at the federal level under the Crime Victims' Rights Act (CVRA). With the OVC funding, NCVLI provides intensive technical assistance, training, and support to three federal crime victim legal clinics in Arizona, Maryland, and South Carolina. The clinics provide free legal counsel and support services to victims in federal criminal cases. NCVLI also provides education and training about CVRA to criminal justice professionals around the country, as do the clinics in the respective jurisdictions they cover. In addition, NCVLI develops amicus curiae briefs on important federal victims' rights issues as they arise nationwide.
State Legislators’ Victim Education Project
Recognizing the importance of providing state legislators with comprehensive information about victims' issues, OVC initiated the State Legislators’ Victim Education Project with the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) in 2002. This project is working to educate state lawmakers and their staffs about victims' rights and services. Project activities include compiling and publishing a guidebook on state laws on victims' rights and services, developing numerous materials on a range of victims' issues for state legislators, and producing an audio CD for legislators that provides an overview of victims' rights. These products are available at www.ncsl.org/programs/cj/victimsrights.htm.
Victims' Rights Compliance Project
In 2005, OVC 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—
- Conducted a needs assessment and obtained the necessary support from stakeholders for the initiative.
- Planned and designed a strategy for implementing a compliance initiative that involved coordination and collaboration with victim service organizations and state and local criminal justice agencies.
- Reviewed and assessed the status of victims' rights implementation in their states.
- Designed a tool that can be used to assess the success of the strategy's implementation.
Each grantee established an advisory group at the outset to provide guidance and direction to its project. Each project involved victims, victim service providers, advocacy groups, and criminal justice professionals in the program planning and design processes.
During the second and third years of the project, grantees implemented their respective strategies and evaluated the effectiveness of the programs. As a consequence of the evaluations, they further refined the programs, designed plans for sustainability, and produced reports documenting the development of the compliance programs.
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 provided funds for the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC) to create a comprehensive online database of federal, state, and tribal victims' rights laws. In April 2007, NCVC launched the database, VictimLaw, a unique and groundbreaking resource that offers user-friendly access to more than 15,000 victims' rights statutes (state and federal), tribal laws, constitutional amendments, court rules, and administrative code provisions. Future additions to the database will include state attorney general opinions and summaries of court decisions related to victims' rights. VictimLaw will be updated regularly and is available free of charge.
VictimLaw provides instant access to a wide range of previously hard-to-find legal information. Although all states have extensive bodies of legal rights for victims of crime (and nearly two-thirds of the states have adopted constitutional amendments guaranteeing rights to victims), locating this information is often arduous and time-consuming. Users can search under each of the following rights: the right to attend, to compensation, to enforcement, to be heard, to be informed, to protection, to restitution, and to the return of property. The database offers four ways to search: by topic, legal term, jurisdiction, and citation.
Judicial Education Project
OVC's Judicial Education Project is developing and pilot testing a comprehensive national training curriculum for judges and court personnel on victimization issues. The curriculum's learning modules will address—
- Victims' rights laws and their implementation.
- The impact of crime on victims, highlighting the impact on, and special considerations for, certain populations of victims (child victims, older victims, victims with disabilities, and victims with limited English proficiency).
- The leadership role of judges.
- How to identify and cope with secondary trauma.
The curriculum is being developed under the guidance of a multidisciplinary advisory group. The grantee will refine the curriculum as necessary based on the pilot tests.
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.