Victim Services Stakeholders Group Meeting

September 30, 2008
Florian Hall, Augusta

In the fall of 2007, the Maine Department of Corrections Victim Advisory Group was charged with reviewing a unified corrections system proposal by Maine’s Governor Baldacci. The charge was to assess the potential impact on victims and provide recommendations that would improve services to victims whose offenders are incarcerated in a county jail facility. The review of the county jails and services provided to victims resulted in a list of policy recommendations for improvement and enhancement.

An immediate concern was apparent lack of post conviction victim services within the county jails. Once an offender is convicted and sentenced to the county jail, services cease or are minimal unless and until the offender is released to probation. According to the 2007 Maine Crime Victimization Report, conducted by the Muskie School of Public Service, only 26% of crime victims in Maine are told of their rights, including their right to post conviction services. If crime victims are not aware of rights and services available to them as their offenders prepare to reenter the community, victim services will not be accessed.

The Maine Department of Corrections Victim Advisory Group and the Maine Jail Administrators hosted a stakeholders meeting on September 30. The purpose was to discuss enhancing services to victims of offenders incarcerated in Maine’s county jails. In attendance were representatives of twelve of Maine’s fifteen jails, victim witness advocates from prosecutors’ offices, advocates from sexual assault and domestic violence projects, probation officers, victim/survivors, a legislator, legislative staff and members of the Victim Advisory Group including staff from DOC Victim Services. Although invited, no representatives from the judiciary or the prosecutors were able to attend.

As part of the registration process for the stakeholders meeting, participants** were asked to rank, in order of importance, various types of services to victims. The attendees identified Notification of Release from Confinement and Bail Release as the top two concerns, followed by Safety Planning.

When further broken down into professional affiliations:

  • Domestic Violence Projects reported overall the number one concern was Safety planning
  • Sexual Assault Projects overall reported that they felt notification or release from confinement and Safety Planning shared equal priority.
  • Probation reported notification as the top priority.
  • County Jails reported bail release and notification of release from confinement as the top priorities.
  • Remaining participants, including legislators and victim/survivors, listed bail release and Safety Planning as the top priorities.

RESULTS:

Priority* Bail Release Notification of
Release from Confinement
Work Release/
Furloughs
Harassment Contact Issues Restitution Safety planning Visitation
1 24 24 3 4 9 5 19 2
2 19 21 3 7 12 3 16 1
3 11 12 14 14 11 7 7 2
4 7 4 7 21 13 3 10 6
5 4 6 8 18 17 11 8 8
6 7 5 9 7 10 9 9 5
7 1 1 18 2 1 14 5 20
8 2 2 9 1 2 28 2 20

* Ranked by importance, 1 being most important
**93 participants sent responses**

The meeting began with a welcome from Department of Corrections Deputy Commissioner Denise Lord who described the mission of the Board of Corrections.

The agenda included a panel on current jail practices on victim notification when an offender is released into the community either on bail or when their sentence is completed. The panel included: Stephanie Laite, Victim Witness Advocate, Knox County, Pam Roberts, Victim Witness Advocate, York County, Steve Butts, Assistant Jail Administrator, Cumberland County, Jim Foss, Jail Administrator, Aroostook County.

Round table discussions were held on the rights of crime victims and the issues faced in ensuring those rights are met. The results of the discussions were tabulated by group (county). As the afternoon went on, the groups began to report only those ideas which had not already been reported on by others.

Suggestions for overcoming barriers:

  1. Community corrections collaboration among stakeholders in each county
  2. Unified forms statewide
  3. Website with victims rights
  4. County round tables with victims
  5. Training and education of judges, bail commissioners, law enforcement and district attorneys about victim rights
  6. All disciplines consistently doing jobs to provide the same information (verbally or handouts) to victims
  7. Resources - volunteers in the jail to do notification
  8. Interaction with media to promote information concerning victim’s rights and available services.
  9. Victim Witness Advocate website (language sensitivity) - The victim advocates meet as the Victim Witness Advocates Association of Maine. The past year they put a website together: http://mainevwa.org/
    • Includes information regarding victims rights
    • Basic questions and answers regarding all types of crime including domestic violence, sexual assault, juvenile justice system, and other resources and links
    • Directory of all victim witness advocates in the state
    • Sensitivity is very important and is done to the best of our ability
  10. Cards for police officers to hand out to victims could include links to various websites including VWA site.
  11. Sam Parker with Riverview noted a lot of people do not understand the NGRI and the mental health system, education on that system is important
  12. MCEDV plans to do focus group work with victims on how they would like to be informed or notified.

Next Steps:

Denise Giles and Jim Foss will report to the Board of Corrections as part of the Victim Services Focus Group. The DOC Victim Advisory Group will work with the jail administrators and victim witness advocates to put together a notification of release request form which could be used by all counties. They will also collaborate on developing a notification policy with jail administrators to focus on consistent practices and will also comply with American Correctional Association standards for those jails that are certified.

A future meeting will be scheduled to discuss how jails can comply with 17-A M.R.S.A. section 1330, which sets out the restitution requirements and begin 25% withholding of funds received or earned on work release.