Victim Services, Domestic Violence
November-December 2020

A new notification system from TDCJ

By Jalayne Robinson, LMSW
TDCAA Victim Services Director

Lately, I have been fielding a lot of questions regarding a relatively new IVSS portal offered by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. We at TDCAA felt it might be helpful to our membership to reprint information directly from the Texas Crime Victim Clearinghouse’s newsletter, The Victim’s Informer (the September–October 2019 issue) to offer some helpful suggestions.

            The Texas Department of Criminal Justice Victim Services Division (TDCJ-VSD) announced about a year ago that it implemented the Integrated Victim Services System (IVSS) to manage victim notification and resource information. IVSS is a free, automated service that provides crime victims, criminal justice professionals, and victim advocates with vital information and notification 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. By registering with the system, you can obtain information about offenders in TDCJ custody, on parole, and on mandatory supervision, as well as about changes in offender status, such as release dates.

            The self-service web portal is available at https://ivss.tdcj.texas.gov, and it allows users to manage personal information directly. Updates to the information you’ve requested are made in real time and are available to view immediately. Search for limited offender information, register for notifications, see past notifications, and manage your preferences for receiving information through this portal. The portal is accessible through any device with Internet capabilities, including desktop and laptop computers, mobile phones, and tablets.

            Notifications about an offender are available by letter, email, and text message. Some notifications are also available by automated phone call or personal phone call. The system processes offender status changes 24 hours a day, which may prompt notifications to generate at all hours. You may choose to receive certain types of information in different ways—for example, urgent notifications by text message and all others by email. The options for receiving notifications are flexible and can be customized to your needs and preferences.

            It is important to note that portal accounts are an option and are not required to receive offender notifications from TDCJ-VSD. You must have an email address to set up a portal account; however, you do not have to receive email notifications if you do not want them. A portal user guide is available at https://ivss.tdcj.texas.gov/ portal-user-guide.

            Prosecutors and their staff may use the IVSS system to enter VIS Activity Reports, register for parole notifications, submit HB 104 information to the TDCJ-VSD, request TDCJ to publish an event you are hosting, request training from TDCJ Victim Services staff, request Victim Impact Panels, and monitor this information from a dashboard.

VACs’ role with IVSS

If you are a victim assistance coordinator (VAC) in a prosecutor’s office, please provide crime victims a referral to IVSS or assist them in registering with IVSS after a defendant has been convicted. One way VACs may offer IVSS referral information is to have the TDCJ-VSD publication “Your Rights, Your Voice, Your Participation” available for handout. I carried a number of these brochures tucked away in my portfolio to hand out in the courtroom immediately after sentencing. These brochures may be given to each of the family members present at sentencing. If the family is not present, you can compose a post-conviction letter and mail the brochure to crime victims. You can find these brochures at www.tdcj.texas.gov/documents/Your_Rights_Your_Voice_Your_Participation_English.pdf.

Prosecutor registration with IVSS

Prosecutors, too, can register with IVSS to be updated on inmates’ custody status, expected release dates, and parole eligibility dates; to see TDCJ inmate numbers; and to look up information on what unit or facility an inmate is assigned to. For example, prosecutors can keep track of an especially dangerous inmate and receive advance notification when an offender enters the parole review process. Advance parole review status notification allows prosecutors to weigh in by submitting a written parole protest letter.

Additional portal features

Offender search. Use the offender search page  to look for TDCJ-incarcerated or paroled offenders. Search by name, State Identification Number, or TDCJ number. Offender information includes the expected release date, age, unit, or parole office the offender is currently incarcerated in or reporting to, offender status (e.g., in custody, on supervision), and actual release date, if the offender was released.

My Dashboard. My Dashboard  provides a list of offenders for whom you are registered, notifications that were sent regarding those offenders, and providers to which you have subscribed (more about subscribing to providers in the next section, “Texas Victim Resource Directory”). The “My Registrations” section allows you to modify your notification preferences. The “My Recent Notifications” section lists notifications already sent to you. You can open a notification to see what was reported and to stop phone calls in case you have forgotten your personal identification number.

Texas Victim Resource Directory. The Texas Victim Resource Directory is a compilation of nonprofit and governmental agencies that provide services to crime victims free of charge. The directory is searchable by crime type, services provided, organization type, geographic location, or organization name. You can make your search as broad or as limited as you need, but keep in mind that searching by multiple parameters will limit the number of results. Results are organized by local resources and statewide resources. You have the option of subscribing to a provider, which will save the organization’s information on your dashboard. The “My Providers” section of the dashboard is a convenient place to compile the contact information for all of the service providers a victim is in contact with. The directory can be used by crime victims seeking assistance or by victim advocates and criminal justice professionals looking to connect a victim to resources. It is mobile-friendly so you may search with your cell phone on-scene or in your office, depending on the situation.

HB 104 Submission Forms. House Bill 104, passed during the regular session of the 85th Texas Legislature, created Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 2.023, which requires notification to a victim of serious felony offenses found in CCP Art. 42A.054, that his or her assailant has been charged with a new serious felony offense under Art. 42A.054. This notification requires collaboration between the TDCJ Victim Services Division and prosecutor offices.

            On or before the 10th day after the defendant is indicted on a subsequent offense as described above, prosecutors must notify the TDCJ Victim Services Division of the offense charged in the indictment. The IVSS portal has an online submission form to comply with this legislation. Please note that the 86th Texas Legislature passed House Bill 2758, which expanded CCP Art 42A.054 to include Continuous Trafficking of Persons and Aggravated Promotion of Prostitution. Other HB 104-eligible offenses can be found at www.tdcj.texas.gov/documents/HB104_Eligible_Offenses.pdf.

Existing registrants. Individuals who were already receiving offender notifications from TDCJ VSD prior to IVSS will continue to receive notifications based on their prior preferences. Existing registrants who have an email address on file with VSD and an incarcerated or supervised offender, were sent an invitation code by email in June to create a portal account.

            Before IVSS, registration for offender notification by TDCJ-VSD was done by victims and criminal justice professionals phoning TDCJ-VSD or when Victim Impact Statements and Confidential Information Sheets were included in offenders pen packets.

New registrants. Victims, criminal justice professionals, and victim advocates who were not previously registered for notification can create a portal account through the Sign In—Register form.

            IVSS provides an additional tool for crime victims to access their rights to notification, to information, to be heard, and to participate in the criminal justice system. If you have questions regarding portal accounts, please contact the TDCJ-VSD office for assistance at 800/848-4284.

New app for DV victims

Hidalgo County Criminal District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez, Jr. reports that his office is the first in the nation to unveil a new app that will provide more protection for victims of domestic violence.

            Launched on October 1 during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Victim Initiated Notification (VIN) app allows victims of domestic violence to automatically send video clips, audio recordings, and their GPS location to law enforcement; victims can either send the images manually or, after 30 seconds, the app will automatically send an alert to the closest law agency. (Victims must first register with local law enforcement officials, who could then respond to an emergency.) When victims are in a crisis situation, they can use the app to send an alert to local authorities and emergency contacts. The app will livestream video of the victim’s surroundings and GPS location, and it will also display a safety map for the victim, giving locations of supermarkets, coffee shops, or even police substations where the victim can run for safety.

            Rodriguez reported that the Rio Grande Valley has experienced a significant uptick in domestic violence since shelter-in-place orders were imposed due to COVID-19. At least 1,200 cases of domestic abuse have been reported, the most ever at this point in the calendar year. Five people—four women and one man—have died as a result of domestic violence, and two McAllen police officers were killed while responding to a domestic abuse call in July. In addition, 213 people have been housed in a local shelter for victims of domestic abuse so far this year.

            The app’s pilot program, which runs through December 31, is paid for by a grant from the Texas Governor’s Office, which administers the state’s Violence Against Women’s Act funding. The Texas Council on Family Violence, an Austin-based non-profit organization, joined Justice Alert Technologies with Hidalgo County to create the app.

            More information on the VIN app is at www.safevictim.com, and a news article on it can be accessed at www.borderreport.com/health/new-domestic-violence-alert-app-being-piloted-in-south-texas-border-county.

Zoom consultations

As TDCAA’s Victim Services Director, my primary responsibility is to assist elected prosecutors, VACs, and other prosecutor office staff in providing support services for crime victims in their jurisdictions. I am available to provide victim services training and technical assistance via phone, email, or videoconference through Zoom. The services are free of charge.   

            If you would like to schedule a Zoom videoconference, please email me at [email protected] Many VACs across Texas are taking advantage of this free training! There are a couple of photos below of some of my recent calls.

            Here is a Zoom FAQ link to review before we start:  https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/206175806-Top-Questions?zcid=1231.

            Also, please check your system requirements for Zoom: an internet connection (broadband wired or wireless 3G or 4G/LTE); speakers and a microphone, either built-in, USB plug-in, or wireless Bluetooth; a webcam or HD webcam, built-in or USB plug-in, or an HD cam or camcorder with video capture card.

            Please let me know how I may be of assistance to you and your office.