VICTIM SERVICES PROGRAM
The Victim Offender Mediation Program (VOMP) was developed in October 1995 in an effort to respond to victim needs. The research was clear that some victims of crime had questions that remained unanswered during the formal criminal justice process. The Victim Offender Mediation Program offers victims the opportunity to meet with the offender face-to-face in a safe setting with trained volunteer mediators.
As a result of surveys conducted in-house, victims continue to tell us this is the number one reason victims choose to participate in this process. This is closely followed by letting the offender know how the crime impacted them, as well as the hope that, by meeting with the offender on a personal basis, the offender somehow would learn something from the meeting so they wouldn’t do it (crime) again. The process has been beneficial to offenders as it makes them aware of the harmful consequences of their actions. They have the opportunity to take direct responsibility for making things right.
Initially, the program was able to get off the ground as a result of support provided by AmeriCorps volunteers. However, in 2001 the program was put under the victim assistance program. The goals remain the same, however, the name of the program has changed in 2007 to VOD (Victim Offender Dialog) The active Linn County Victim Advisory Committee for the Sixth District agreed while working on victim sensitive practices, that mediation implies some sort of closure or settlement which sets the victim up to fail in the healing process.
Using the word Dialog gives voice to both victim and Offender and leaves open more opportunity for change.
- Train volunteers and referrals for Dialog.
- There are currently two trained facilitators in the VOD program.
- Find ways to let victims know that this process exists for them
- Several brochures have been developed to provide information about the programs such as victim Offender Dialog, Victim Impact Panels, Involvement in Victim Advisory Committee and the many other services under the Victim Services Program.
- Find ways to let offenders know that the process exists for them as a direct way of taking personal accountability for the harm caused by their act.
- Staffs, including the Victim Advocate, have worked to increase staff and offender awareness of the programs.
Victim Services Program:
The Victim Advocate was hired in July 1999 (funded by a Byrne grant) to:
- Provide outreach services/referrals to victims of crime
- Serve as a liaison between victims and the community to promote the development of victim sensitive practices
- Train staff and the community on victim needs
- Support the development of community and restorative justice
- Development and training for Staff Victimization and Peer Support
The Advocate has helped build mutual understanding and open communication between the Sixth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services, victims and their families as well as the community and victim advocacy groups. The Victim Advocate serves as an active liaison to the victim community by coordinating services with service providers within the community and state. Efforts have been focused on the following strategies:
From July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2008 services were delivered to 153 new victims and 570 contacts were made to victims for ongoing services. Referrals to the program are made by probation/parole; county attorney’s office, other agencies, community. Contacts are by phone, mail, in person. A phone call may last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes or more depending on the crisis stage of the victim and the needs of the victim. Victims are met in person either in the advocate’s office or at a neutral location. All contacts are followed up by phone or by letter. One victim may have several contacts with the advocate.
The Victim Advocate also sends out notification letters to registered victims when an offender from an Institution is expected to arrive in one of the facilities in the district. Upon request from victims, the Advocate is able to register them into the ICON database under Record Alert into registered victims. This process gives probation officers the opportunity to know who the victim is and to know they are receiving services from this agency. A confidential comments screen was also developed for probation officers to enter notes from victim is a safe and confidential way, separate from the offenders generic notes.
As part of advocating for victims, the Victim Advocate has also been involved in individual meetings with offenders to help them understand victim needs and their responsibility to victims. Many offenders have had their own victimization issues that need to be addressed and are then given services or referrals to proper agencies.
Victim Advisory Committee:
A Victim Advisory Committee was developed to bring together victims, advocates, victim service providers, corrections, prosecution (county attorney’s office) and law enforcement. This committee is the backbone to developing victim sensitive practices within the Criminal Justice System. They have aided, for example, in the development of the Victim Offender Dialog Program (VOD) and Victim Impact Classes to Offenders in Community Corrections as well as Inmates at Anamosa State Prison and Mt Pheasant. The Committee was active in preparing a notification letter probation officers or the Advocate send to victims after an offender is placed on probation supervision. The committee provides a yearly fundraiser, which raises money for victim needs, such as travel to court, educational conferences, self help books, child care while they attend court or sit on panels and to provide healing baskets for victims. Several members of the committee sit on victim impact panels. As a result, Anamosa Prison Inmates continue a SAVE group (seriously acknowledging victim’s emotions.) In 2002, another Victim Advisory Committee was developed in Johnson County and has been active in victim sensitive practices in the Johnson County area. They are responsible for the development of a resource guide for victims as well as bringing awareness to Crime Victims Rights Week, supporting the Domestic Violence program by working with Tama County based corrections and developing wooden silhouettes used for the Domestic Violence Program during domestics awareness month. Linn County also provided their local Domestic Violence Program with Silhouettes from the victim fund and help from Tama County based Corrections.
In 2008, the two victim advisory committees merged to form an official Victim Advisory Board with support and recognition from the District Director. Members of the board have seats of several other Boards within the district, bringing the voice of the victim to the table.
Victim Impact Awareness Class:
Since July 2007 to June 2008, Linn Co. has provided two classes for offenders. There usually are three a year in Linn and two a year in Johnson County. Because of budget cuts and staff workload, facilitators have not had the time to put into the extra classes. Other places that victim panels have presented for were Anamosa Prison, Mt. Pleasant Prison, and OWI/ASAC Classes for Offenders, Schools, and Conferences for agencies and staff trainings.
49 victims, survivors, victim advocates, law enforcement and community members have served on panels. Offenders complete projects which benefits victims to reinforce their responsibility to help repair the harm. They help with projects during Victims Rights Week in April of each year by making ribbons, donating time to help set up tables and chairs for events, and by being present to support the events.
In promoting victim sensitive practices within corrections and the community, trainings continue as new staffs are hired. There was a specific training for staff on victim notification if there was a safety issue to be addressed such an escape etc. The victim services program also is responsible for the implementation of the staff victimization program. Training was completed to staff and management on Bullying in the workplace to sensitize and bring awareness of staff victimization.
The Victim Advocate continues to be instrumental during National Crime Victims Rights Week, networking with other agencies, to bring in a national speaker to promote understanding of victim issues and victim sensitive practices. Activities were also supported by other staff, along with offenders.
Community & Restorative Justice:
The Victim Advocate supports the development of Community and Restorative Justice programming focusing on the victims’ active participation in the Victim Offender Dialog and Victim Impact programs. The advocate invites victims and advocate panels to share the victims’ view of defining the harm done to victims and offer offenders the opportunity for change.
In the past three years, Inmates belonging to the SAVE (Seriously Acknowledging Victims Emotions) at Anamosa Prison have given back to their victim panel volunteers and other victims by offering a special recognition gathering at the prison during National Crime Victims Rights week. Each Inmate writes a special piece about taking personal responsibility to the group, taking full account for the crime they committed and are working on promoting doing no more harm to victims and community. This year they presented victims and survivors certificates of appreciation along with a wooden trinket boxes made by the Inmates. One of the men in the group uses his artistic talent to make colored pencils drawings of homicide victims for families that are willing to furnish him with a photo to copy from. Other men put the finishing touches on by matting the picture and making a frame. The Advocate continues to work with this group of men who want to change and make a difference for others.