My job as TDCAA’s Director of Victim Services is to travel across the state visiting prosecutor offices and providing face-to-face training to victim assistance coordinators (VACs). I also speak about victim services at various TDCAA seminars and visit with prosecutors at those conferences.
Over the past few months, I’ve noticed a few topics coming up over and over again, especially with so many new elected prosecutors (and their just-hired subordinates) taking office, so I decided to write a column to answer some of those frequently asked questions. I hope it is helpful to y’all!
What should be included in a written notification packet?
The following is an outline of what should be sent in a packet to crime victims no later than the 10th day after the indictment or information.
The packet should include a cover letter, which should be on prosecutor office letterhead and should be addressed to the crime victim. The cover letter should include:
• the case number and the assigned court,
• written notice of the victim’s right to file a Victim Impact Statement (VIS) and Victim Information Sheet,
• written notice of his or her right to complete a Crime Victims’ Compensation Application,
• name, address, and phone number of the local VAC (you),
• an offer to assist with completing the enclosed documents, and
• written notice for the crime victim to keep the prosecutor office informed of his or her current address and telephone number.
The rest of the notification packet (in addition to the cover letter) should include the following forms and brochures:
• a Victim Impact Statement (VIS) and Victim Information Sheet,
• an “It’s Your Voice” Victim Impact Statement brochure,
• an application for the Crime Victims’ Compensation fund,
• a Crime Victims’ Compensation brochure,
• a Texas Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE) program brochure (if VINE is available in your county),
• a Crime Victims’ Rights brochure, and
• referral brochures to social service agencies in your community.
Which victims of what offenses should receive a Victim Impact Statement (VIS)?
Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 56.01 provides the definition of who is a crime victim for notification purposes. Additionally, the Crime Victim Clearinghouse (a division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Victim Services) provides each office a quarterly VIS Activity Report for reporting how many VISes were sent by your office and how many crime victims returned VISes to your office.
VIS Activity Reports are required for the following offenses:
• aggravated assault
• injury to a child, elderly individual, or disabled person
• intoxication assault
• intoxication manslaughter
• property crimes (this category is included for those counties that provide VIS forms for property offenses)
• sexual offenses against a child
• sexual offenses against an adult
• trafficking of persons
• “other” (this category should be used when a VIS is provided but the offense is not listed).
Please keep in mind that the VIS is sent to crime victims for them to provide the criminal justice system with a detailed account of the emotional, psychological, physical, and financial impact of the crime on the victim and her family, as well as to explain her feelings of loss, frustration, fear, and anger.
In the upcoming months, please watch for a new training video on our TDCAA Victim Services website, www.tdcaa.com/victim-services, outlining a VAC’s basic duties and responsibilities and how VACs can help the prosecutors with whom they work.
Where can I find forms and brochures for victim notification packets?
They are online at various government agencies’ sites.
• VIS forms: http://tdcj.state.tx.us/publications/ pubs_victim_impact_statement.html.
• “It’s Your Voice” brochures: http://tdcj.state .tx.us/documents/Its_Your_Voice.pdf.
• Crime Victims Compensation (CVC) applications: https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/files/cvs/ cvcapplication.pdf.
• CVC brochures: https://texasattorneygeneral.gov/ files/cvs/cvc_brochure.pdf.
• To order hard copies of CVC applications, CVC brochures, and Crime Victims’ Rights palm cards, go to https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/files/cvs/ orderform_cvs.pdf.
• Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE) brochures: https://www.texasattorneygeneral .gov/files/cvs/vine_state.pdf.
• an order form for free publications from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Victim Services Division: http://www.tdcj.texas.gov/divisions/vs/victim _clearinghouse_order_form.html.
• VIS Activity Report (due to TDCJ Victim Services Division’s Texas Crime Victim Clearinghouse each quarter): http://tdcj.state.tx.us/publications/pubs_victim_impact_statement_report.html.
Victim Assistance Manual
TDCAA and I are so very pleased to unveil a newly updated Victim Assistance Manual. Printed and distributed in part by grant funds, copies of the manual were mailed during the first part of January 2017 to each prosecutor office in Texas.
The Victim Assistance Manual is designed to help prosecutors and VACs develop and enhance their prosecutor-based victim assistance programs. It is meant to be a quick reference when prosecutor office staffers are looking for an answer for day-to-day victim services questions.
The manual covers setting up an effective program, first contact with victims, funding, and Crime Victims’ Compensation and restitution, just to name a few topics. A CD is attached to the back cover; it includes sample forms that you can put on office letterhead or customize with your specific court information.
Many, many thanks to Cyndi Jahn (VAC in Bexar County), Michelle Permenter (VAC in Harris County), Emily Johnson-Liu (Assistant State Prosecuting Attorney in Austin), and the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office Victim Assistance Division, who contributed new material to this edition of the manual. And thank you to other TDCAA members (authors of books and articles in this journal) who so graciously wrote some of the materials in this book: Patricia Baca, Beth Barron, Deanna Belknap, Dana Bettger, Della Bryant, Terese Buess, Claudia Duran, Laurie Gillispie, Melissa Hightower, Brandy Johnson, Thad LaBarre, Nicole LoStracco, Barry Macha, Sherry L. Magness, Stacy Miles-Thorpe, Sunni Mitchell, Ellic Sahualla, Bea Salazar, Pam Traylor, Jennifer Varela, Jane Waters, and Sarah Wolf.
It is our hope that you will peruse the manual and reference it when you need to know how best to serve crime victims in your community.
National Crime Victims’ Rights Week
National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW) is April 2–8. This year’s theme is “Strength. Resilience. Justice.” It envisions a future in which all victims are strengthened by the response they receive, organizations are resilient in the face of challenges, and communities seek collective justice and healing.
Here is a link to an online resource guide provided by the Office for Victims of Crime to help you promote National Crime Victims’ Rights Week in your community: https://ovc.ncjrs.gov/ncvrw2017/index.html. Included are educational materials, artwork, and theme posters.
TDCAA would love to publish photos and stories from your NCVRW event in an upcoming edition of this journal, so please email them to me at [email protected]
Who would have ever thought, 26 years ago when I went to work for District Attorney Marcus Taylor in the Wood County Criminal District Attorney’s Office, that God would have been preparing and equipping me with a knowledge and understanding of the criminal justice system (both local and statewide) so I could help other victim assistants all over Texas?! What an amazing gift He has given me, and what an honor that so many of you request my assistance!
With 54 newly elected prosecutors taking office January 1 and numerous new prosecutor staff members across the state, my job as TDCAA’s Director of Victim Services has been booming! For those of y’all who have not contacted me yet, I am at your service for victim assistance. My visits are totally free of cost to your agency, thanks to a wonderful grant through the Governor’s Office. Please email me at Jalayne [email protected] for inquiries, for support, or to schedule an office consultation.