(Editor’s note: Inside CDCR looks at the history of the Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services, established in 1988.)
This week, CDCR joins communities and organizations across the country in their annual observances of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, April 19-25. CDCR will acknowledge the journey and courage of crime victims and survivors, and celebrate those who advocate on their behalf.
This year’s NCVRW theme — Seek Justice | Ensure Victims’ Rights | Inspire Hope — commemorates the individuals and groups whose advocacy has propelled the victims’ rights movement forward for the past half century, inspiring in victims and their loved ones a feeling of hope for progress, justice, and healing.
Victim services: Past and present
In 1982, California voters approved Proposition 8, known as the Victims’ Bill of Rights. Six years later, the department established the Victim Services Program. Today, it’s known as the Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services (OVSRS).
OVSRS is a national leader in enforcing victim rights and providing vital post-conviction services to communities impacted by crime.
OVSRS operates a comprehensive victim services program. Using established justice practices, the office ensures crime victims and survivors are afforded the utmost respect regarding their legal rights.
In 2019, the department made 36,237 contacts for services from victims, offenders and the public. OVSRS also registered 10,969 victims to receive services. The the process, over $27.5 million was collected for direct restitution orders, restitution fines and unknown victims.
If you were the victim, survivor, or witness to a crime and the offender was sentenced to a CDCR institution, either in an adult or juvenile facility, the following information is vital to your recovery.
The victim of crime, next of kin, immediate family member of a victim, parent or guardian of the minor victim, or witness may request to be notified of the release, death, escape, parole proceeding, contract, or scheduled execution of their offender(s). Requests can be made by completing a “Request for Victim Services” form.
Victim-Offender Dialogue Program
Victim Offender Dialogue (VOD) is a process in which the victim of a crime, or the surviving family members, and the offender who committed the offense, meet face-to face in a safe and secure setting.
For certain victims/survivors of severe violence and violation, the facilitated VOD process can provide a pathway to a sense of further healing and further justice.
Victim input into special conditions of parole
Victims may request input into the following special conditions of parole (considered by the CDCR Division of Adult Parole Operations (DAPO):
- That the parolee be required to live in another county or in another city within the committing county if they are clearly threatened; or if the offender was convicted of a specific violent felony, they may request parole placement 35 miles from their actual residence.
- Restrict the parolee’s contact with the victim.
Victim notification of parole suitability hearings
When requested, the Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) will notify the victim/next of kin/immediate family member of an upcoming parole proceeding. Requests to attend or make a statement may be made by calling OVSRS. If victims can’t attend the hearing but would like to participate, they can request an audio connection or appoint a representative to attend the hearing.
Victims may also submit a written statement to BPH to be read into the record, or an audiocassette or videocassette tape recording, which will be viewed by the commissioners conducting the hearing.
The sentencing court can order the offender to pay two different types of restitution: (1) restitution to the victim known as a direct order of restitution, and (2) restitution fines.
Restitution fines are considered an offender’s debt to society for the offender’s criminal behavior. In the State of California, the court must impose a restitution fine regardless of the crime committed or the sentence imposed. A fine is set at the discretion of the court. The court must order offenders who are sentenced to state prison to pay a fine between $300 and $10,000. The money collected for the restitution fine is transferred to The California Victim Compensation Board (CalVCB), assisting victims of violent crimes suffering out-of-pocket losses and who may be eligible to apply for financial reimbursement.
The court can also order an offender to pay direct order restitution to the victim. The California Penal Code states that the court must award restitution to the victim(s) in the full amount of the economic loss, including but not limited to property damage, medical expenses, psychological counseling, lost wages and any other expenses related to the crime.
Read up on the bevy of services provided by OVSRS and learn about partnering state, federal, county and community resources by visiting https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Victim_Services/.
The history of victim services
Developing the methods for providing information, notification, restitution, outreach, training, referral and support services to crime victims and their next of kin didn’t happen overnight.
The 1982 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.”
“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. 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 late 1988 or early 1989.
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 CDCR 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.
Victim Services Timeline
Information from “Facing Violence Today: Fewer Victims Tomorrow” published by the department in honor of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, April 1994.
The passage of the law and the creation of the department’s crime victims program were the culmination of a drive started in the early 1970s.
- 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, 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 a 13-year-old girl was killed by a repeat drunk driver.
- 1980 Congress passed the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act while 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 survivors 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., gaining federal recognition of critical issues facing battered women. 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.
- 1981 The disappearance and murder of missing child Adam Walsh prompts a national campaign to raise public awareness about child abduction. 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. 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 Office for Victims of Crime awards first grants supporting state victim 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 Office of Public and Employee Communications