July-August 2011

Crime Victims’ Rights Week recap

Suzanne McDaniel

TDCAA Victim Services Director in Austin

Crime Victims’ Rights Week provides an opportunity to honor victims and survivors of crime. It also offers a major avenue to improve public perception of the criminal justice system by offering information about victim rights, services, and resources from the prosecutor’s office. Spreading the word about services and the prosecution’s involvement also encourages increased cooperation among law enforcement agencies, criminal justice professionals, medical associations, and social service agencies—all integral partners in ensuring that victims receive all available assistance.

    Special thanks go to Bexar County VAC Cyndi Jahn, who is also our Victim Services Board Chair, who produced multiple events during San Antonio’s Crime Victims’ Rights Week and then volunteered to write an article about it for this publication. (See page 30 for her inspiring summary of her office’s CVRW events.) Thank you also to DeAnna Browning of the Henderson County District Attorney’s Office who sent information about their activities.

    Next year’s observance is April 22–28, 2012. It’s not too early to contact your partners and start planning a press release and conference, a memorial, a walk or run, public service announcements, brochures, or multiple events. Cyndi will tell you that it is much easier to get emergency help for a victim from another agency when you have established a relationship with that agency. Crime Victims’ Rights Week is an opportunity to do just that. The Office for Victims of Crime has sample press releases, suggested activities, speeches, and more available for you to download at http:// ovc.ncjrs.gov/ncvrw2010/ themedvd.html. You can also contact me and I’ll be glad to connect you with our visionary VACs.

Does your office handle protective orders?

Ann Landeros, Domestic Violence Resource Attorney at the Office of Court Administration, wants to let you know about two OCA projects that are relevant to TDCAA members who handle protective order cases.

    One is the Texas Remote Interpreter Project (TRIP), which is in a pilot phase in the Third Administrative Judicial Region. TRIP provides free licensed Spanish court interpretation for county and district courts handling civil cases involving intimate partner violence. The court can enroll in the TRIP program and schedule interpreter services by visiting OCA’s webpage at www.courts .state.tx.us/oca/DVRA/trip.asp. OCA wants prosecutors handling protective order applications in the third region (Austin, Bell, Blanco, Bosque, Burnet, Caldwell, Colorado, Comal, Comanche, Coryell, Falls, Fayette, Gonzales, Guadalupe, Hamilton, Hays, Hill, Lampasas, Lavaca, Llano, McLennan, Milam, Navarro, San Saba, Travis, and Williamson Counties) to be aware that this service is now available for court hearings with Spanish-speaking participants. The service cannot be used to supplant existing licensed court interpretation (if the service is provided at no charge to the parties) but can be used to replace court-paid interpreters who are not licensed. Once the program is rolled out statewide, it will offer interpretation in languages other than Spanish through the commercial Language Line service.

    The second is the Protective Order Reporting Project. The percentage of protective orders (POs) that are entered into the DPS database (TCIC), and subsequently forwarded to the federal criminal database, is quite low; DPS estimates that less than 30 percent of the protective orders issued actually are entered into TCIC. In large part, the problem is due to the failure of the applicant or the applicant’s attorney to submit the identifying information required by Tex. Fam. Code §85.042 and Tex. Gov’t Code §411.042(b)(6) (the respondent’s name, sex, race, date of birth, height, weight, eye color, and hair color) to the court clerk. This information should be submitted on the DPS Protective Order Data Entry Form and provided to law enforcement along with the signed protective order. Without that identifying information on the data entry form, the TCIC system will not accept any information about the protective order. As the protective order usually lacks the required identifiers, the PO alone is (almost always) ineffective for purposes of TCIC. Among the many ramifications of this situation, failure to report POs to the federal criminal information database may result in reduction of Texas’ Byrne Justice Assistance Grant funding. The OCA is trying to bring this problem to the attention of the judiciary, court clerks, and prosecutors in hopes that we can reduce all the adverse consequences of the problem and avoid the Byrne Grant funding penalty.

    Ann feels that prosecutors’ cooperation is essential to the success of both these projects and looks forward to working with you. Please contact her at ann.landeros at txcourts.gov or 512/936-6390 for more information.

Help is on the way

Each week I get interesting questions from the membership. This week I received an inquiry from someone who just started her job; I also got one from a seasoned prosecutor who was stumped and curious what others in the same spot would do. Good news for both newbies and veterans: There’s a new resource for all experience levels that’s available at your convenience. The Office for Victims of Crime has just published “Gaining Insight, Taking Action,” a great compilation of three training DVDs and a companion guide to enhance victim assistance skills. You can download the guide at www.ovc.gov/ publications/infores/pdftxt/Gain-ingInsight.pdf, and information about ordering the three companion DVDs (free with a $5 shipping and handling charge) is available at www.ncjrs.gov/wp-content/shoppingcart/ShopCart.aspx?item=NCJ .

    Here’s the content outline of the training, originally offered at the National Victim Assistance Academy:

Communicating With Victims of Crime

  • Helping Victims Regain Control
  • Listening With Compassion
  • Understanding the Impact of Trauma
  • Building Trust
  • Becoming Aware of Communication Barriers

Meeting the Needs of ­Underserved Victims

  • Creating Services for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Community
  • Providing Services to Isolated Crime Victims
  • Bringing Hope to Urban Communities
  • Empowering Immigrant Women To Speak Out
  • Reaching Out to Crime Victims With Disabilities
  • Providing Services to Victims of Hate and Bias Crimes
  • Reaching Out to Victims of Financial Crimes

Substance Abuse and ­Victimization

  • Relationship Between Substance Abuse and Victimization
  • Techniques for Assisting Victims Who Abuse Drugs or Alcohol
  • Importance of Collaboration in Assisting Victims With Substance Abuse Issues

I know I’ve gotten questions about all these issues, and this is a great primer or refresher course, and I hope you take advantage of it. Please let me know your thoughts and suggestions for our developing Web page on victim services, and have a wonderful summer.

U-Visa questions

We’ve recently fielded some queries about U-Visas, documents for U.S. immigrants who are victims of serious crimes. Someone granted a U-Visa is given legal status to reside and work in the United States for up to four years.

    Because federal guidelines for these visas are broad, state prosectuors’ offices have a lot of leeway in granting or denying them (though there is a yearly limit of 10,000 U-Visas nationwide). We want to know how various jurisdictions deal with U-Visas, so please email me at [email protected] with answers to these questions:

  • Does your office handle U-Visa applications, or does another local victims services agency do it? 
  • Has your office established policies and procedures on U-Visas? Or is each application treated on a case-by-case basis?
  • Who is responsible for them in your office, an attorney or a VAC?
  • How do you deal with older cases?
  • How many such visas does your office process in a week or a month?
  • Do you have any exemplary cases that you would share?
  • What are your major concerns with processing U-Visas?

We hope to publish an article on this topic in the near future but need your help and input, so please drop me a line soon.