SENATE PUBLIC SAFETY COMMITTEE GIVES THUMBS UP TO LEGISLATION OVERHAULING SERVICES FOR CRIME VICTIMS
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 28, 2015
Maxwell Szabo (415) 314-9693
Alex Bastian (415) 553-1931
SB 519 Removes Hurdles to Recovery for Victims of Crime, Ensures They Receive Services to Help Them Heal and Put Traumatic Events Behind Them
SAN FRANCISCO – Today, the Senate Public Safety Committee voted unanimously to support California crime victims. SB 519, authored by Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) and sponsored by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, removes a myriad of obstacles facing victims and witnesses who seek treatment and services to help them heal and recover from victimization. SB 519 makes necessary, commonsense changes to the protocols of the Victims Compensation and Government Claims Board (VCGCB) to make it work better for victims of crime.
“We must never lose sight of the impacts criminal behavior has on the community, and on the victim in particular,” said District Attorney George Gascón. “This proposal makes essential changes that ensure victims across the state receive timely services, enabling traumatized victims to avoid obstacles to recovery. The cycle of victimization is such that today’s victim could be tomorrow’s offender if they do not get the proper help to heal. ”
“It is essential that crime victims get help and compensation as fast as possible. Unfortunately, in many cases, that is not happening today,” said Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland), the bill’s author. “This bill is designed to speed up that process by streamlining the system and removing roadblocks and red tape.”
Victims of crime often fall into crime themselves because they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or as a reaction to their trauma. Studies have found that victimization and delinquency largely overlap, with most victims engaging in delinquency and most delinquents being victimized at some point in their lives (Lauritsen, Laub, and Sampson, 1992; Lauritsen, Sampson, and Laub, 1991; Singer, 1986). In fact, in San Francisco, 90% of assault victims between 15 and 30 years old admitted to San Francisco General Hospital have a prior history of criminal activity.
According to a report by Californians for Safety and Justice, one in five Californians acknowledge having been a victim of crime in the last five years. Half of these acknowledge being a victim of a violent crime, and two in three of these crime victims acknowledge having been victims of multiple crimes in the past five years. What’s worse, two in three crime victims report experiencing anxiety, stress and difficulty with sleeping, relationships or work, and half of the individuals tested felt it took more than six months to recover from these experiences. Most importantly, four of the five services available to crime victims tested in the report – including assistance with accessing victims’ compensation and navigating the criminal justice process – were unknown to the majority of victims. Of those who had used the services, nearly half found them difficult to access.
In March 2015, the Legislative Analyst’s Office released a report outlining ongoing issues with the VCGCB and recommended that it be drastically reorganized. This was not the first time a state agency noted that there were problems with the Board. In 2008, the California State Auditor released a report criticizing the Board. The Auditor noted that frequently, the Board took longer than the statutorily required 90 day time period to disburse payments to victims. In one instance, the Board did not disburse payment until 255 days after receiving the victim’s application. This delay in disbursing payment persists 7 years after the Auditor’s report was released.
SB 519 Makes Changes to VCGCB Protocols, Restitution Codes and More:
Victims Compensation Specific
- Requires letters written by the board to an applicant for compensation to be translated into English, Spanish, and Chinese.
- Eliminates the cooperation requirement in order to receive victim-of-crime compensation for minor witnesses.
- Does not require an applicant for compensation to submit documentation from IRS, FTB, BOE, Social Security Admin, or EDD in order to determine eligibility.
- Enables VOC counseling for adult witnesses. Currently, individuals listed on a police report as a witness who were victimized by virtue to their proximity to a crime do not have access to counseling.
- Add financial crimes committed against elders to list of qualifying crimes for VOC counseling.
- Enable crime victims to access mental health counseling regardless of probation status.
- Increase the relocation benefit according to the cost of living index in each county.
- Increase benefit amount from $5,000 to $7,500 for funeral expenses as an average funeral costs $7,000-$10,000.
- Require appeals to be processed within 90 days of receipt. Without timely reimbursement for expenses victims are revictimized by collection agencies and other entities to pay bills resulting from the crime.
- Add language under the restitution codes to establish a 30-day maximum time for a restitution hearing to be conducted when requested by either party, with the right to amend the order if victim provides further damage amounts.
- States that expungement does not relieve a person’s obligation to pay restitution.
- Enable video testimony for individuals outside of subpoena power in restitution hearings.
- Facility animals shall be allowed to witness stand to support victims of crime.
- Extend 1050 (g) continuances to cases of victims with unique medical vulnerabilities and complications, specifically victims of elder abuse.
- Currently, 1050(g) applies to domestic violence, homicide, child sexual assault and child abuse. Extending the ability to receive a continuance for these cases – and elder abuse in particular – ensures cases involving vulnerable victims are not shuffled from prosecutor to prosecutor. These victims need and deserve more attention, just like those for domestic violence.
SB 519 will be heard next in the Senate Appropriations Committee. It is supported by a diverse and growing coalition of public safety, victims, consumer and seniors groups.