Legislature(2001 - 2002)
02/28/2001 01:45 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Number 1330 SB 105-VICTIMS' RIGHTS/ PRISONER'S PFD SENATOR HALFORD said this bill went through both the house and senate last year. SB 105 puts the victims' advocate in the legislative branch and is the implementation of the constitutional amendment. An attorney represents the State of Alaska and the accused but the victim usually does not have representation. SB 105 tries to provide help for the victim in a professional way so he or she can maintain and defend their rights. MS. JULIE LUCKY, staff to Senator Halford, said there had been a question on partially exempt service versus exempt service. On page 4 of SB 105 the victims' advocate is put into exempt service. Section 6, which is the listing of all jobs under the partially exempt service, was not changed to conform to exempt service. The office was listed as exempt on page 4 and partially exempt in Section 6. In order to make the two conform, an amendment was needed for Section 6. The drafter preferred that the committee pass a conceptual amendment because at that time he was not sure what the line number would be. The conceptual amendment on page 10, line 13 will read: Sec. 6. AS 39.25.110, and the line numbers will change accordingly. SENATOR DONLEY moved to accept the conceptual amendment. There being no objection, conceptual amendment #1 passed. Number 1412 MS. LAURIE HUGONIN, Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (ANDVSA), said ANDVA appreciates the victims' office being put back into the legislative branch. ANDVA would like to have resources put toward the beginning of interaction instead of toward the complaint side at the end. This way it could be seen that there were enough victim witness coordinators, enough information so people would know their rights as a victim, and enough advocacy groups to help victims through the process from the beginning. MS. HUGONIN said it would be helpful to look at the statutes where victims are given the right to speak for themselves in court - possibly amending the statute to allow someone else to speak for them. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asked her if ANDVA supports SB 105. MS. HUGONIN said ANDVA does not oppose the bill but it does not support the bill either. ANDVA does have concern with how the resources would be directed. MR. DEAN GUANELI, Criminal Division, Department of Law (DOL), said prosecutors have recognized the need for treating victims well for a long time. Statistical data show that cases are sometimes won and lost because victims and witnesses do not want to cooperate. Federal funds have allowed the criminal division to create the victim witness assistance program whereby paralegals are working to provide help to victims and witnesses through the criminal justice process. In order to win cases, victims and witnesses need to help. With the help of federal funding from the Violence Against Women's Act, DOL has been able to provide training for prosecutors and paralegals every year. DOL provides a number of brochures that explain the criminal justice process and rights to crime victims. All of the brochures are translated into Yupik and Inupiat. DOL provides the victim with a form that he or she is to sign. The form tells them that if they want to exercise the rights granted under current law they should not talk to the defense attorney or the investigator. After the form is signed it is given to the defense attorney, invoking the victims' rights under current law. Defense attorneys do not like this and have challenged the statutes that now exist to protect victims from defense tactics. DOL believes there are more resources that could be brought to bear to help all criminal justice agencies provide more direct service to victims. The governor has identified a way to do this in SB 107. The efforts toward victim restitution statutes have been in how the courts go about setting restitution and what presumptions they make and who bears the burden of proof, but little attention has been given to practical problems. DOL proposes a more formal collection system within DOL so the collection unit can also collect restitution for victims. Another proposal is found in the criminal division's budget to fund a volunteer coordinator position. This position has been federally funded but the funding is going away. The position has volunteers working in the prosecution offices making contacts with victims, issuing subpoenas, and collecting information from victims. Number 2107 MR. ROBERT BUTTCANE, Division of Juvenile Justice, Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS), said when he started his juvenile probation career there was a philosophy that the system was offender focused. With a change in the Alaska constitution and enactment of other legislation, the restorative justice philosophy has been adopted by DHSS. With this philosophy, the concerns and needs of the victim have been elevated to be equal to any of the concerns for the offender. There are four parts of the juvenile justice system: 1) Prevent repeated criminal behavior. 2) Restore victims and communities to wholeness. 3) Protect the public. 4) Help the young person to develop competency so they can become a productive citizen. One way to implement this is to focus energy on the needs of the victim. DHSS worked to understand victims and apply the rights that were afforded them in the constitution and statutes. The biggest right, as it related to the juvenile system, was notification of delinquency proceedings, which prompted questions from victims about the juvenile offender. The restorative justice system was codified in the delinquency chapter and a number of adjustment were made to the confidentially section related to the juvenile system. One was that DHSS was authorized by law to share information with victims. As DHSS starting to share this information with victims, the entire system began to shift. Offenders started to see, when the victim was in the courtroom, that the crime was no longer nebulous, it was a real person they had impacted. Because victims do not understand the judicial process, DHSS shares information with the offender and the victim. In the beginning, courts were uncomfortable with a victim attending the juvenile court proceeding, but now the court system understands that a victim has the right to be in court when the juvenile is there. It is becoming common practice for courts to let the victim speak at hearings and arraignments, having an incredible impact on the juvenile system. TAPE 01-6, SIDE B MR. BUTTCANE noted that it was very beneficial when victims were allowed into formal proceedings. Alaska statutes have been changed to allow for victim participation. A case may not be adjusted until deference has been given to the victim in regards to restitution satisfaction. MR. BUTTCANE said SB 105 creates an advocate who can advocate for victims. This concept cannot be argued with, but it is also important for a victim to tell his or her story. MR. BUTTCANE said DHSS has committed some of its federal delinquency prevention and intervention monies in support of victim services. DHSS has helped establish victim offender mediation programs in Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Juneau. These programs are on shaky grounds because there has not been enough support in making them work. It takes a great deal of human energy and investment to keep victims' services going. MR. BUTTCANE added that when victims are paid attention to, he or she starts to develop trust, understanding, and appreciation. Eventually many victims are willing to sit down with the offender and have a face-to-face dialogue or mediation. This has a great impact on the juvenile offender, more than any program offered. From this process, victims start to heal. DHSS advocates more opportunities for victims to be involved and participate in the rehabilitative and restorative process. Number 2109 MS. CHARLOTTE PHELPS, Victims For Justice (VFJ), speaking via teleconference from Anchorage, noted there are some aspects of SB 105 that VFJ likes, particularly the increase in awards for violent crimes compensation. Ms. Phelps said medical costs have increased a lot in the last few years and it is gratifying that the legislature is increasing the maximum awards. This will go a long way toward helping victims put their lives back together after a violent crime. MS. PHELPS said as long as the funding for the non-profits that provide the initial support - crisis intervention, on-going support, and education - is not impacted, having an advocate to investigate violations of victim rights seems good but she would prefer the focus to be on the front-end. VFJ would like some type of reassurance that establishing this office would not take funds away from non-profit organizations that provide the front-end service. VFJ also feels it is important for victims to tell their own story. MS. PHELPS said VFJ does not support SB 105 completely but it is also not against the bill. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR said SB 105 would not interfere with or detract from funds currently going to non-profit organizations. He said it might be of value to have a legislative funded position that would advocate to the legislature for the entirety of the program. Number 1862 MS. CANDICE BROWER, Legislative Liaison for the Department of Corrections (DOC), said DOC has come a long way in terms of victim services. Prior to 1996 the main concern for DOC was victim notification. There was always a concern that when an offender was released from prison the victim may not be notified. Victims were given an opportunity to make statements through pre-sentence investigation reports as well as parole hearings. Since 1996 DOC has provided approximately 1,355 hours of training to staff on victim related issues, rights, and concerns. In 1997 DOC was given a grant through the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the Office of Victims of Crime for a conference where approximately 300 people attended from across the state. The agenda included Promising Practices and Strategies for Victims' Services in Corrections. In 1999 a committee was established to implement victim impact class programs and since that time, DOC has provided victim impact classes for offenders so he or she may learn the impact their crime has had on the victim, the victim's family, the offender's family, and the community. DOC has provided training for various communities and formed a statewide victim advisory committee, which includes many of the agencies involved in victim services. In 1998 SB 25 was passed and an automated victim notification system was implemented through DOC. In 1999 DOC provided training for the Keeping Kids Safe program in the Bush. This was in conjunction with juvenile justice and helped people become aware of sex offenders in their community. DOC has provided Victim Information Notification Everyday (VINE) training throughout the state since 1999. One of the most important things DOC has done is to help formulate victim advisory committees. There are active committees in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, and Bethel and DOC is working on committees in Kenai, Kodiak, and Mat-Su. In 1999 DOC hired a victim service coordinator with federal funding from the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, and that person has hired a criminal justice technician to assist. MS. BROWER said DOC thinks SB 105 is important. DOC also thinks it is important to reach victims on the front-end, and it is also important to help victims seek restitution. MS. JULIE LUCKY, staff to Senator Halford, said NIJ recommended that states and the federal government create compliance enforcement programs, sometimes referred to as Victim Ombudsman Programs. There was also a study from the Office of Victims of Crime, which talked about the ombudsman offices, saying these offices can get involved on the front-end. This is why the words "advocacy" and "investigations afterwards" were used in SB 105. Ombudsman offices have been able to work with local groups and have been also been able to get in on the front-end to take care of problems before they happen. Ms. Lucky said a stand-alone agency could be very helpful in taking care of things before a sentencing happens. MS. LUCKY said the advocacy office in SB 105 does have the freedom to get in on the front-end. It can also be very helpful having a neutral third party for a victim and to have one office to call. SB 105 has a section that allows the victims' advocate offices to contract out with other agencies, which would be local victims' groups. SENATOR THERRIAULT asked if there was a fiscal note for SB 105. MS. LUCKY responded there are three fiscal notes. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR said there was a zero fiscal note from the Department of Revenue, a zero fiscal note from the Attorney General, and $47,000 going to $45,000 from the Department of Corrections. SENATOR DONLEY moved CSSB 105 from committee with the accompanying fiscal notes and with individual recommendations. There being no objection, CSSB 105 moved from committee.