DOJ Plans Changes to Serve Crime Victims

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime has proposed rule changes to help states better serve crime victims.
     The Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (VOCA) gives the OVC authorization to award annual grants to U.S. states and territories to support eligible victim assistance programs. These programs offer support and treatment to victims of personal, violent or sexual crimes.
     The proposed changes include a new definition of “child abuse,” to provide a more flexible approach for states addressing a broad range of harm to children, the OVC said in its action.
     Among the changes is a proposed provision that allows states to allocate funds in the form of “subawards” to entities administering victim assistance programs on behalf of the state. States have been outsourcing services for years, but the practice has never been addressed in the OVC guidelines. The office, for the first time, also has proposed a mandate that states create competition for funds.
     “Competition of subawards will lead to better and more cost-effective services,” the OVC stated in its action.
     The new regulation also would expand the use of VOCA funds to include payment of legal services.
     “The existing guidelines allow legal services for victims, but only in the emergency context. OVC has received feedback from victim service providers indicating that there is a significant need for legal services for victims outside of the emergency context (e.g., asserting rights in the criminal justice process, support for human trafficking victims with a myriad of complicated issue). Allowing states to provide such services will lead to better outcomes for many victims,” the OVC said in its action.
     Another substantial change in the guidelines concerns prison and jail inmates. The guidelines previously prohibited the use of funds for services provided to victims of crimes serving sentences. The OVC, however, has reversed that policy.
     “The findings of the Prison Rape Elimination Commission illuminated an acute need for increased victim services for incarcerated victims, and OVC wishes to allow states to address this gap in service,” according to the proposed action.
     Finally, the proposed changes would allow victim service providers greater flexibility in spending VOCA funds for technology used to enhance victim services.
     “For example, informational and outreach efforts via online forums and social networking may be effective and relatively inexpensive ways to reach certain victim populations. In addition, podcasting and digital video sharing enable victim service providers to continually reach victims with enriched information,” the OVC added.
     Comments are due by Oct. 28.

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