The number of successful claims for compensation made by crime victims has dramatically fallen over the past six years. This decline has brought with it growing concern about the fairness of practices and treatment of individuals by the Victims of Crime Compensation Office (VCCO) and in police departments. Hoping to shine greater light on problem areas within victim compensation and increase the sensitivity of officials dealing with victims, Assembly Democrats Shanique Speight, Eliana Pintor Marin and Louis Greenwald sponsored four measures passed by the full General Assembly on Thursday.
“No one prepares to have a loved one fall victim to violent crime, let alone to become a victim themselves,” said Speight (D-Essex). “To that end, it is very worrying that the VCCO approved only 37 percent of all claims filed in 2016 when their mission is to compensate as many victims of serious crimes as possible.
“Providing compensation should be the rule, not the exception. Strengthening the justness and responsiveness of services, specifically in place to provide redress for crime victims and their families, is our responsibility,” Speight explained.
In direct response to low rates of compensation, one of the measures (A-5387) would require the VCCO to give evidence as to why a decision was made against compensation. This measure was approved 75-0.
“When a person or their family is affected by homicide, assault, domestic violence or another serious crime receiving compensation after-the-fact involves a tricky, often hard to navigate process,” said Pintor Marin (D-Essex). “Many victims and their families are unaware of their eligibility for compensation, which translates into vulnerable individuals missing out on desperately needed assistance. The value of $25,000 in helping cover crime-related expenses is immeasurable and makes providing guidance to understand the compensation process so imperative.”
Working to better connect victims with available services for compensation, another of the measures (A-5386) would improve community awareness of compensation programs by giving grants to nonprofit organizations to conduct outreach in high-crime urban areas. The bill passed 76-0.
The final two measures advanced (A-5388 and A-5389) work in stride by improving the specialized training of individuals working with crime victims. The first would require police departments to have at minimum one officer with specialized training on crime victims and the second, that the Victims of Crime Compensation Review Board (VCCRB) be comprised of four members with training or expertise in crime victims’ rights. These measures passed 75-0 and 74-0, respectively.
“Victims of serious crimes deserve to be treated with the utmost compassion and respect. To do that we must ensure the accessibility of services is matched with equal quality,” said Greenwald (D-Burlington, Camden). “Ensuring those who work directly with victims and on their cases have the training and background to be sensitive and empathetic toward their situation is crucial. Undoubtedly, advocates equipped with this specialized knowledge will allow the justice system to better serve the community. ”
The four measures now go to the Senate President for further consideration.