Unlocking History, Victim & Survivor Rights & Services

Giving voice to others: Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services

Looking back at the history of CDCR’s victims’ services

Developing the methods to provide information, notification, restitution, outreach, training, referral and support services to crime victims and their next of kin didn’t happen overnight. Since the state’s first person was incarcerated, crime victims and survivors have fought for their voices to be heard.

In 1982, California voters passed Proposition 8, known as the Victims’ Bill of Right. The law gave victims “the right to testify on the impact of crime at sentencing and parole hearings, otherwise known as the right of allocution and the right of victims to receive restitution.”

Six years later, the department established the Victim Services Program, now known as the Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services (OVSRS).

“Victims of crime have the right to expect that criminals will be held accountable for their crimes,” said department Director James Rowland in Correction News, December 1988.

First program leader

Sandi Menefee served as the coordinator for the new program. Later, she was named chief of the Victims Services and Restitution Branch.

According to the department’s newsletter, “the victim’s right to be served, to be informed, to be heard and to be involved are major areas of concern which will be addressed.”

The 1988 newsletter also indicated “Central Office/Communications (is developing) a brochure titled ‘Helping Crime Victims’ … in cooperation with the Special Projects Victims Assistance Program.”

The brochure listed the rights of victims such as notification, having a voice regarding parole and restitution. It also outlined what happens to an offender after being convicted of a crime. The printed brochure is undated but was most likely published in the late 1980s.

In 1993, the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency held the Victims of Crime Summit to review “the state of victim services in corrections (for) developing recommendations for addressing the unmet needs of victims.”

According to a department memo dated Jan. 20, 1994, the summit brought together 75 representatives from victim centers, victim support groups, law enforcement, the judiciary and other affected state agencies.

The summit focused on five key issues: restitution, allocution, notification, offender programming and system improvements.


Source: Department publication, “Facing Violence Today: Fewer Victims Tomorrow,” April 1994.

  • 1972 — The first three victim assistance programs are created: Aid for Victims of Crime in St. Louis, Missouri; Bay Area Women Against Rape in San Francisco; and Rape Crisis Center in Washington, D.C.
  • 1974 — The Federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration funds the first victim/witness programs in the Brooklyn and Milwaukee District Attorneys’ offices, plus seven others through a grant to the National District Attorneys’ Association. Purpose: to create model programs of assistance to victims, encourage victim cooperation and improve prosecution. The first law-enforcement based victim assistance programs are established in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Indianapolis, Indiana.
  • 1975 — The first Victims’ Rights Week is organized by the Philadelphia District Attorney. Citizen activists from across the country unite to expand victim services and increase recognition of victims’ rights through the formation of the National Organization for Victim Assistance.
  • 1976 — The National Organization for Women forms a task force to examine the problem of battering. It demands research into the problem and money for battered women’s shelters. Nebraska becomes the first state to abolish the marital rape exemption. The first national conference on battered women is sponsored by the Milwaukee Task Force on Battered Women. In Fresno County, Chief Probation Officer James Rowland (later the director of the California Department of Corrections) creates the first victim impact statement to provide the judiciary with an objective inventory of victim injuries prior to sentencing. Women’s Advocates and Haven House in Pasadena establish the first shelters for battered women.
  • 1977 — Oregon becomes the first state to enact legislation mandating arrest in domestic violence cases.
  • 1978 — The U.S. Congress passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act which establishes the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect. The new center creates and information clearinghouse, provides technical assistance and training, and promotes research and model programs. The National Coalition Against Sexual Assault is formed to combat sexual violence and to promote services for survivors. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) is organized as a voice for the battered women’s movement on a national level. That organization initiates the introduction of the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act in the U.S. Congress. Parents of Murdered Children, a self-help support group, is founded in Cincinnati, Ohio. Meanwhile, Minnesota becomes the first state to allow probable cause (warrantless) arrest in cases of domestic assault, regardless of where a protection order had been issued against the offender.
  • 1979 — The Office on Domestic Violence is established in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but is closed in 1981. The U.S. Congress doesn’t renew funding for many of the victims’ program so they are phased out. Many grassroots and “system-based” programs are closed.
  • 1980 — Mothers Against Drunk Driving is founded after the death of a 13-year-old girl who was killed by a repeat drunk driving offender. The first two chapters are created in Sacramento and Annapolis, Maryland. Congress passes the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act of 1980. Wisconsin passes the first Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights. The First National Day of Unity in October is established by NCADV to mourn battered women who have died, celebrate women who survived the violence and honor all who worked to defeat domestic violence. The day eventually becomes Domestic Violence Awareness Week and, in 1987, is expanded to a full month each October. NCADV holds its first national conference in Washington, D.C., which gains federal recognition of critical issues facing battered women and sees the birth of several state coalitions. The first Victim Impact Panel for defendants is held in Oswego County, New York.
  • 1981 — Ronald Reagan becomes the first President to proclaim Crime Victims’ Week in April. The disappearance and murder of missing child Adam Walsh prompts a national campaign to raise public awareness about child abduction and enact laws to better protect children. The Attorney General’s Task Force on Violent Crime recommends that a separate task force be created to consider victims’ issues.
  • 1982 — In a Rose Garden ceremony, President Reagan appoints the Task Force on Victims of Crime, which holds public hearings in six cities across the nation to create a greatly needed national focus on the needs of crime victims. The Federal Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982 brings “fair treatment standards” to victims and witnesses in the Federal criminal justice system. California voters overwhelmingly pass Proposition 8 which guarantees restitution and other statutory reforms to crime victims.
  • 1983 — The Office for Victims of Crime is created by the U.S. Department of Justice within the Office of Justice Programs. The U.S. Attorney General establishes a Task Force on Family Violence, which holds six public hearings across the country. The AG issues guidelines for federal victim and witness assistance. In April, President Reagan honors crime victims during a Rose Garden ceremony at the White House.
  • 1984 — The passage of the Victims of Crime Act establishes the Crime Victims Fund, made up of federal criminal fines and bond forfeitures, to support state victim compensation and local victim service programs. President Reagan signs the Justice Assistance Act, establishing a financial assistance program for state and local governments to fund 200 new victim service programs. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is established. The U.S. Congress passes the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act, which earmarks federal funding for programs serving victims of domestic violence. The Federal Bureau of Prisons establishes first victim/witness notification system.
  • 1985 — The United Nations General Assembly passes the International Declaration on the Rights of Victims of Crime and the Abuse of Power. The U.S. Surgeon General issues a report identifying domestic violence as a major health problem.
  • 1986 — The Office for Victims of Crime awards the first grants to support state victim compensation and assistance programs.
  • 1987 — The American Correctional Association establishes a task force on victims of crime. NCADV establishes the first national toll-free domestic violence hotline.

Story by Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor.

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