CDCR this week joins communities and organizations across the country in recognizing National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW), acknowledging the journey and courage of crime victims and survivors and celebrating those who advocate on their behalf.
This year’s theme — Support Victims, Build Trust, and Engage Communities — is demonstrated by services provided through CDCR’s Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services (OVSRS).
CDCR’s Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services (OVSRS) thrives on engaging local communities throughout the state.
Whether it’s providing restitution services, giving a notification of change in custody status of an incarcerated person, or sending instructions on how to participate in the parole hearing process, OVSRS consistently aids the crime victim and survivor community and their families.
Their work hasn’t stopped, even during a global pandemic.
When the world paused in March 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, OVSRS took the opportunity to go digital. Here’s how they continue to serve crime victims and survivor throughout the state – one community at a time:
New virtual services for crime victims
In July 2020, OVSRS launched a multi-language Live Chat service on their webpage to make communication with victims easier. The instant messaging software allows for quick, real-time access to a Victim Services Coordinator to receive updates on an offender, the ability to quickly update contact information, coordinate parole hearing participation, and request status or restitution collection.
This Live Chat service, featured on the OVSRS home page, is available to the public during normal business hours.
Unclaimed Victim Restitution Portal
This week,OVSRS officially launched a new Unclaimed Victim Restitution Portal. The portal simplifies the process for crime victims or their loved ones to confirm if CDCR has collected court-ordered restitution on their behalf.
“With 88,000 unknown victims and well over $20 million awaiting them at California Victim Compensation Board, this portal will really help victims and communities gain access to their money quickly,” said OVSRS Chief Katie James.
60 victims have already used the restitution portal within the first four days.
“I want to compliment CDCR’s Enterprise Information Services team for making this project a priority for us,” James said. “It is great that our department works as a team effort for victims.
Outreach numbers on the rise
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, OVSRS has seen their effort to engage communities increase:
- The number of registered victims increased by 15 percent from 2019.
- Email communications are up 117 percent from last year.
- The number of people reached on the OVSRS webpage increased by more than 31 percent in 2020.
- Overall number of contacts for services from victims, offenders, and the public increased by 48 percent from last year.
Additionally, OVSRS responds to an average of 3,500 phone calls per month from victims, offenders, county staff, and concerned citizens to provide information about offenders sentenced to state prison.
Parole suitability hearings go virtual
To adjust to COVID-19 safety measures, the Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) has been hosting virtual parole suitability hearings, which have reported a record number of victim attendance. OVSRS coordinates all victim services during this process.
Victims can now feel safe and empowered from their homes as they virtually participate in the parole suitability process. In 2020, there were 2,411 victims that attended a virtual parole hearing.
Additionally, CDCR has updated their CDCR Inmate ID Locator, which will allow for the victim to confirm location of the offender,and upcoming parole hearing dates.
OVSRS also features a Victim Request for Services portal to sign up electronically for services such as Notification of Release, requesting various Special Conditions of Parole, and request to be notified and participate in the offender’s parole hearing process.
Training victim community-based organizations
CDCR works hand in hand with several statewide crime victim organizations to strengthen outreach efforts and resources for local communities.
These efforts include providing information and training opportunities to government, non-profit, victim service organizations, and public safety partners.
“We’re committed to providing training opportunities not only to our own organization, but also other victim community-based organizations throughout California,” said OVSRS Outreach & Training Specialist Silvia Aceves.
While these trainings are mainly virtual in light of the pandemic, they help CDCR to engage with local communities and share important information available to victims, survivors and their families.
“Our office is here not only to help victims understand what their rights are post-sentencing, but also to help them understand the criminal justice system as a whole and how our office fits into that system,” said Aceves. “We work to empower victims and their families by helping them understand the system as much as possible.”
CDCR honors crime victims through moment of silence and art
Each year during Crime Victims’ Rights Week, hardworking staff, volunteers, partnering agencies, and incarcerated people recognize the victims and survivors of crime through a series of victim-impact events.
Although this year’s events were limited due to the pandemic, CDCR still recognized crime victims and survivors around the world.
On April 21, a moment of silence honoring the crime victim community was observed in CDCR facilities and staff meetings.
In addition, OVSRS continues to mail yellow ribbons, masks and informational posters to institutions and regional offices. These materials not only raise awareness for victims, but also provide information how to contact and register with OVSRS to receive their services.
OVSRS is committed to “Support Victims, Build Trust, and Engage Communities” every day.
Crime victims and survivors can reach OVSRS Mon. through Fri., from 8 a.m. 5 p.m. at 1-877-256-6877, Or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By the Office of Public and Employee Communications.