Aiding Victims Of Crime

Hearing Finds Need For More Services

May 19, 1991|By Rona Hirsch | Rona Hirsch,Contributing writer

ELLICOTT CITY — A hearing organized by the State Board of Victim Services could leadto more support for local crime victims, who some say are often victimized again as their cases proceed through the criminal justice system.

The Wednesday hearing, before five board representatives in Howard County, was the 10th in a series that began last April to assess the needs of crime victims throughout 24 jurisdictions in Maryland.

Of those jurisdictions, only 15 offer victim services units.

The hearing, which drew about 25 people, addressed the needs of crime victims in Carroll, Howard and Frederick counties.

After the finalhearing, scheduled next month in Baltimore County, recommendations based on testimony of victims and law-enforcement agencies will be issued to each jurisdiction.

"We want to bring to the attention of the powers that be the needs of crime victims," said Cassie Puls, StateVictims Services coordinator for the Attorney General's Office.

Services provided by the agency include notification of the status of the case; explanation of the judicial process; referrals to support and counseling agencies and to the state crime compensation board; accompaniment to court; and a separate waiting area in the courthouse for victims and witnesses.

Puls initiated a unit in Carroll in 1986 which she headed until her appointment to the Attorney General's Office in 1989.

"I was a one-person operation," she said. "It was a big load. You have to spread yourself around and be selective."

Carroll County now has two full-time staffers and one secretary. Diane Jackson is the director of the Victim Witness Assistance Unit, and Donna Smith is the coordinator for the unit's family violence department.

Both Jackson and Smith said they would like to expand their services into district and juvenile court.

"We can only provide services to victims of felonies and domestic violence," said Jackson. "We would like to expand services to victims of all cases."

Puls said the board generally recommends at least two full-time staffers in smaller jurisdictions and five to six in larger ones.

Anne Arundel County's unit, for example, has about 11 people, while Frederick County has four and Howard County has two part-time employees.

Puls explained that as soon as a case comes into the state's attorney's office, a letter should be sent to the victim/witness.

"If your victim/witness is more informed, your case can only be better," she said. "If you don't have their cooperation, you don't have a case. These are real people whose lives have been drastically altered because of the crime. Not to involve them in the process is insensitive and inhumane."

Jackson said she also would like to see units established in the police department because her office sees victims once an arrest has been made. Otherwise, "victims are left to fend for themselves," she said.

Jim Purman, the Carroll County chapter representative for Parents of Murdered Children, testified at the hearing that during his own odyssey with the justice system following the murder of his teen-age son in 1987, "We were kept informed and met with the office of thestate's attorney, Tom Hickman.

"We were guided through the trial by Cassie and her staff," Purman said. "In 1988, when we went to a conference of Parents of Murdered Children in Chicago, we heard horror stories (about their insensitive treatment in the judicial system).

"Then I found out how widespread this is. Every county in Maryland should have something exactly like what we have in Carroll County."

In addition to small staffs of paid workers, some jurisdictions beef up their services substantially, but cheaply, using volunteers and student interns from area colleges, said Puls.

Funding for the units may come from several sources, but the most common is from withinthat county's budget for its state's attorney's office.

A second source is Victims of Crime Act, or VOCA. Defendants in federal cases must pay a fine, and this money is funneled to the states.

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