Carroll to use grant to improve its victim assistance program

April 26, 2000|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Much of a nearly $31,000 state grant awarded to the Carroll County state's attorney's office will be used to hire an administrative assistant to help keep pace with the growing demand on its victim and witness assistance unit.

The money from the Maryland Victims of Crime Fund, a slice of $552,884 earmarked for 15 agencies across the state, also will pay for software to enhance the process of keeping crime victims and witnesses better informed on the status of cases and defendants, said Shirley E. Haas, director of the victim and witness assistance unit under State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes.

Haas and Barnes were honored by the Governor's Office in April last year for their contributions to victims' rights and services.

They implemented an electronic pilot program in Maryland known as VINE -- for Victim Information Notification Everyday -- that enables registered crime victims to be alerted around the clock within 30 minutes or less if an inmate who victimized them is released from custody.

The success of the VINE program in Carroll and Montgomery counties has prompted plans for its installation across the state, linking prisons, detention centers and state's attorney's offices.

Such a network would close information gaps and would offer a greater sense of security to victims or witnesses who fear retaliation, Haas said.

While the VINE program operated elsewhere in more than 400 communities and in 29 states two years ago, Carroll County was the first in the nation to provide court information and inmate status, VINE officials said.

The new case-management software will enhance those services because it pulls together unrelated cases involving the same victim or witness, Haas said.

"If a person calls and knows he is supposed to be in court, but can't remember when and doesn't know the name of the defendant, it's difficult to track down all the necessary information," Haas said. "The new software will eliminate the chance of providing someone with only part of the information they need."

The administrative assistant, the first added help to the unit in eight years, will increase the state's attorney's unit from three to four.

"It may not seem like much, but help in answering phones, inputting data and basic filing will leave more time for [client] interviews and assessments," Haas said.

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