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Carol Anne Costa: Raimondo Steps Up For Crime Victims

Thursday, May 16, 2013

 

General Treasurer Gina Raimondo is taking action to ensure the proper care for victims of violent crime.

As a former Deputy Clerk of the Rhode Island Superior Court, some of my most vivid and gut wrenching memories are those of the impact statements delivered to the court by victims of crime. I witnessed many times the raw emotions of those hit by violence and misdeeds. It was, believe me when I tell you, unforgettable. I remember a sentencing of a drunk driver when the sister and daughter of the deceased victim stood strong, wept bitterly and forgave him in front of a stunned gallery. At the same time, the young daughter indicated her complete uncertainty, “I have no idea how I will go on,” as her emotional, financial and family footings were ripped out from under her. Publically she was assured by her aunt, grasping her tightly that they would get through it together as a family. To be honest, I still tear up recalling this memory. I often think about that young girl and cling to the hope that her support system held out and wonder; does our state’s victim’s support system do the same? Now General Treasurer Gina Raimondo and a cadre of legislative leaders, the majority of whom are women, are sponsoring laws to make victim’s futures that much more certain.

Stronger Victims Legislation in the Hopper

Raimondo, Representative Anastasia Williams, Senator Donna Nesselbush along with the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, SOAR RI and the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence recently announced legislation designed to strengthen the Treasury's Victims Compensation Program.

The proposal amends the emergency fund for victims section in the criminal injuries compensation statute to add relocation expenses. The proposal calls for emergency compensation for relocation costs not to exceed $2,500. The section already allows for emergency compensation for burial and crime scene clean-up expenses.

The bills introduced on the both chambers are hopefully on the way to becoming law. H-5969, introduced by Representative Anastasia Williams and co-sponsored by Representatives, Joy Hearn, Eileen Naughton, Edith Ajello and Speaker Gordon Fox.

And in the Senate, S-0909 was introduced by Donna Nesselbush and co-sponsored by Senators, Susan Sosonowski, Elizabeth Crowley, Hanna Gallo and Gayle Goldin. The Senate bill is on for hearing before Senate Judiciary Committee on May 16, 2013.

Victims of a violent crime, often find rebuilding their lives starts with finding a new place to call home and this bill will help with a financial infusion to assist in that goal. This legislation will help families find, or reach, safe and affordable shelter. Raimondo noted in the press rollout of the package that the bill could be transformative, “This legislative proposal will change lives, and could quite possibly save them. By government coming together to work with community leaders, we are finding solutions to keep families safe."

Raimondo tackles the backlog

Raimondo’s office administers the Crime Victims Compensation Program (CVCP) under Title 12 Chapter 25-28. Shortly after her election Raimondo found a serious log jam of victim’s compensation cases and she and her staff have since worked to eliminate a 900-case backlog. Each one of those 900 cases represents a person or family whose lives have been faced with lingering and real emotional, financial physical and psychological issues stemming from being victimized. The fact is that in Fiscal Year 2012, 422 Rhode Island families were awarded over 1,300 payments totaling $1.9 million.

Raimondo, along with several key legislators are now working together to improve parts of the victims’ rights statute and make the existing laws work better. Eliminating the backlog and getting funds to victims efficiently is a huge step in the right direction.

The Rhode Island Victims’ Bill of Rights

Title 12 Chapter 28 is dedicated to victims’ rights. Its purpose is as follows:

In recognition of the responsibility of the community to the victims of crime, the general assembly declares its intent to ensure:
1. That all crime victims are treated with dignity, respect, and sensitivity at all phases of the criminal justice process;
2. That whenever possible they receive financial compensation for their injury or loss from the perpetrator of the crime; and
3. That the full impact of the crime upon the victim is brought to the attention of the court.

This Victims Bill of Rights has a multi-agency administrative approach, as the Judiciary and the Executive branches have roles in carrying out its purpose. The Judiciary collects funds through the Victims Indemnity Fund (VIF), a fee assessed upon conviction or plea (part of a defendants court costs). Distributing those funds to qualified victims falls to the Treasury. Raimondo since her election has focused renewed energy toward this important charge.

More women in government = More compassionate laws

I cannot help but think that more women in government truly understand the hurdles in place for victims, particularly women. This legislative push indicates a strong and positive trend in my mind. When more women command the levers of power real change comes for all people. I believe this not because male legislators are uncaring or not compassionate…we just think differently. And new perspectives and diversity will carry the day.

According to the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s Annual Report, in 2012, 3,044 people received a restraining order from Rhode Island Family and District Courts. Over 900 people were charged with violating those orders. Being stalked or threatened in the wake of a criminal act is terrifying. Oftentimes, victims need to relocate to keep themselves and loved ones safe. The newly proposed legislation adds emergency relocation funding for these impacted people. Currently the law allows for emergency expenses for burial expenses that shall not exceed the sum of $8,000 and crime scene clean up that shall not exceed $2,000. The new language adds awards for emergency compensation for relocation costs that shall not exceed $2,500.

When I think back on that young woman, her aunt, and so many others who told their stories, I give kudos to Raimondo and to these legislative leaders who have eliminated the CVCP fund backlog and are pushing for stronger and better provisions for all victims of crime.

If you are a victim of a violent crime and are entitled to compensation, you can learn about your rights and get help from the Crime Victim Compensation Fund or the Victims Assistance Portal.


A public relations and community outreach specialist, Carol Anne Costa has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience. She previously served in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also enjoyed a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently a public housing manager for the Johnston Housing Authority. Her work has been published in several local outlets including: GoLocalProv, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.

 

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