In the last issue of The Texas Prosecutor journal, the origin and purpose behind the Victim Impact Statement (VIS) Quarterly Activity Report was discussed in detail, including the fact that it is revised every two years following the legislative session. Many changes have been made to the VIS Quarterly Activity Report as a result of the most recent VIS Revision Committee. The committee’s goal was to make it more user-friendly to victim assistance coordinators (VACs). By accomplishing this task, TDCJ Victim Services Division believes it will improve the accuracy of the statistics collected from the report.
The Texas Crime Victim Clearinghouse, the organization with statutory responsibility for collecting the report, has been receiving suggestions all year long on ways it can be improved. We listened and made note of all the concerns because we knew that problems with the report equate to problems with the statistics our office collects. There were certain issues we heard time and time again. For instance, victim assistance coordinators told us that the offense titles listed on the report in Section 3 were too detailed and that many of the offense titles they use in their counties didn’t match up with the titles listed on the report. This issue was a big concern to us. When a VIS went out for an offense that wasn’t listed on the VIS Quarterly Activity Report, was it being excluded from the report, or was it being put into another category, which would cause a misrepresentation of the numbers in that particular category? Victim coordinators consistently suggested that we make the offense titles more general so offenses match up more precisely with the offense titles used in charging documents in each of their counties.
Another concern was that we were asking VACs to report on information that they did not have. In Section 2, the report asks for the following information:
• How many Victim Impact Statements were sent in pen packets to the TDCJ Correctional Institutions Division?
• How many Victim Impact Statements were sent with court records to the Texas Youth Commission?
• How many Victim Impact Statements were sent to your local Community Supervision and Corrections Department?
In our discussions with VACs, we learned that many of them have no way of knowing what happens to the VIS once it leaves their office for court. They often are not aware of the disposition of the case, and to whom, if anyone, the VIS gets forwarded, making it impossible for them to provide an accurate number on the report.
Changes to the report
During the revision committee meetings, it was extremely helpful to have a variety of VACs from both large and small counties provide input on this topic. As a result, we made significant changes so the report is more user-friendly and accurate.
Among the changes, we eliminated in Section 2 the items asking for the number of VISes sent in pen packets to the Texas Youth Commission and to local community supervision and corrections departments. Victim assistance coordinators are now asked to provide only the following information:
• How many Victim Impact Statements did your office provide to victims during the month?
• How many completed Victim Impact Statements did your office receive during the month?
More monumental changes were made in Section 3, which asks for information regarding VISes provided to victims for certain offenses. The “Types of Offenses” were changed to be more general so as to better fit the offenses being charged by the many prosecutors’ offices in Texas. The changes include adding Robbery, Kidnapping, Trafficking of Persons, and Property Crimes. For sexual assault offenses, there is now a category titled Sexual Assault and a different category for Sexual Offenses Against a Child. Intoxication offenses will now be in one category, Intoxication Assault/Intoxication Manslaughter. Committee members agreed that these changes will make the task of completing this report much less daunting than before.
Other changes to the VIS Quarterly Activity Report include a new reporting period beginning in September 2011. The report will still be collected on a quarterly basis; however, the months that the report is collected have changed. The previous reporting period was based on a calendar year (January to December). Because TDCJ Victim Services Division compiles statistics on a fiscal year basis (September to August), the change in the reporting period will allow the statistics collected to be consistent with other information made available to the legislature. Previously, the due dates were the 15th of January, April, July, and October. The new reporting period sets the due dates as the 15th of December, March, June, and September.
Our hope for the changes
As you read through the many improvements that were made to this report, you may ask yourself, what do we hope this new and revised report will accomplish? By far, we hope this new report will make it easier for VACs to complete. Victim assistance coordinators play such an important role for victims in the criminal justice process, and it is important that this report not be a huge, time-consuming project when that time can be better spent assisting victims. Also, it is important that TDCJ Victim Services collects accurate statistics. By asking coordinators to report only information that they have access to, we increase the accuracy of the statistics submitted.
Finally, we want VACs to know that we value their suggestions and input. Getting the Victim Impact Statement through the criminal justice process is an extraordinary team effort that takes place within each judicial district. It is important that victim assistance coordinators know that we support the hard work they do on a daily basis, and that if there is something we can do to make it easier, we are happy to take those ideas into consideration. As a result of the collaborative efforts that went into creating this new report, we are confident that it will be a positive step in gaining a better understanding of the role the Victim Impact Statement is playing across the state.
An email containing the new VIS Quarterly Activity Report went out to VACs in late September, and it is also available at www.tdcj .state.tx.us by clicking on Victim Services Division.