IV. Financing Victim Services and Improving Service Delivery
While the stability and amount of funding for services for the victims of crime have changed over the past 40 years, the focus in terms of the “crime problem” continues to be on the punishment and treatment of offenders. Consider an example: Since 1982, there has been a 620% increase in the funding of jails, prisons, and offender treatment. In the year 2005, the United States spent over $60 billion on the maintenance and operation of the correctional system (U.S. Department of Justice).
At the same time, programs designed to directly provide services and assistance to the victims of crime are highly underfunded, often grant-based, and frequently required to annually reapply for continued support (See Elias, 1992). Most often, the funding of services reflects federal distributions to states in the form of victim assistance grants. The magnitude of the funding of victim services is described as follows, by the U.S. Department of Justice:
During FYs 1999 and 2000, OVC [Office forVictims of Crime] distributedmore than $608million to states throughVOCA victim assistance grants ($238 million in FY 1999; $370 million in FY 2000). States sub-granted these funds to criminal justice agencies, social service agencies, private nonprofit agencies, andAmerican Indian tribes to support direct services to victims of child abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, drunk driving, elder abuse, and robbery; family members of homicide victims; and victims of other violent crimes. The services provided include crisis counseling, therapy, shelter, information and referral, help in filing compensation claims, and advocacy support. Between FY 1999 and 2000, VOCA funds supported some 4,000 programs across the country and reached more than 6.4 million crime victims. This represents a 15-percent increase in the number of victims served since the previous biennium. (https://www.ncjrs.gov/ovc_archives/reporttonation2001/chp2.html)
While federal and state funding for victims has increased in recent decades, even those criminal justice initiatives that incorporate issues specific to victims’ rights often depend for their funding on fines and victim surcharge fees collected from offenders.
In addition to increasing the funding of victim services, federal and state governments and social service providers have worked hard to improve the implementation and delivery of services. This has included significant changes and improvements within the criminal justice system to better assist the victims of crime. A 2001 report by the Office for Victims of Crime notes the following:
States and sub-grantees have made and continue to make major strides in several key areas in working with crime victims. First, significant improvements are being made in the criminal justice system response to crime victims. Specialized domestic violence courts, community policing, automated notification systems, registries of protective and restraining orders and of sex offenders, and standardization of sexual assault evidence collection all support services to victims and increase offender accountability. Second, the need for and value of collaboration with other disciplines, agencies, and systems is recognized. Protocols are now in place for domestic violence and sexual assault cases and for criminal crisis response. Criminal justice officials and community-based advocates coordinate activities and, with increased training, both fields are more aware of the responsibilities of the other. Finally, states are increasingly expecting persons who serve crime victims to be trained and, in some instances, certified. Some states have developed standards for programs that receive VOCA funding. Several states have annual statewide conferences and others are implementing state victim assistance academies. (https://www.ncjrs.gov/ovc_archives/reporttonation2001/chp2.html)
The area of domestic violence is an excellent example of the integration of service provision, increased training of criminal justice officials and social service providers, and coordination of justice officials and community-based organizations. For example, specialized domestic violence courts have served to integrate the screening, referral, and monitoring of criminal cases. These courts are dedicated to dealing with felony or misdemeanor domestic violence crimes, and they have been supported by federal STOP Violence Against Women funds. Some notable improvements in the treatment of domestic violence through the implementation of these courts include the training of court officials to promote the consistent and efficient handling of cases and on-site victim advocates. These victim advocates serve as the primary contact to victims, creating safety plans and coordinating housing, counseling, and other social services. They also provide victims with information about criminal proceedings and special conditions contained within their orders of protection. These courts have also employed resource coordinators and implemented technology that assists in maintaining links between service providers and court officials, providing information on the status of victims and offenders, and holding agencies accountable for accurate and prompt reporting.