Montgomery Crime Victims Learn How to Find Programs that Can Provide Help
04/13/2011
Burtonsville/Silver Spring/Takoma Park/Wheaton Gazette

View Clip

Though much of the work done by the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services focuses on punishing or rehabilitating criminals, an increasing amount of state money is coming from court fees this year to help victims as well.

That was the message provided to about 45 people gathered at the victims' rights awareness fair Monday in the Silver Spring Parole and Probation Office to mark the beginning of National Crime Victims' Rights Week.

Each year, officials on the department's Criminal Injuries and Compensation Board collect millions of dollars from court fees across the state that are put toward such services as covering funeral costs for the families of homicide victims, paying medicals bills for victims of assault, and compensating wages for other victims, according to Nikki Charles, the board's administrator of victim services.

"Typically, there needs to be some kind of physical injury [to qualify for compensation] unless it's a felony crime, but the services are there," Charles said.

While the types of victims who qualify for state compensation money are limited, the fact that the corrections department does actively work to compensate victims often plays second fiddle to the department's more recognized duties, like the incarceration of inmates and rehabilitation programs for offenders, said Dashawn Cabbagestalk, program manager of the Office of Victim Services in the state correctional services' Division of Parole and Probation.

"That's the reason we hold these events, to let people know about these services," she said. "Although we are an offender-based organization, meaning that most of the programs and services we provide are centered on offenders, the victims are not left out."

The board is on track to collect as much as $9 million in 2011, Charles said, a significant increase from the $7.3 million collected last year. A majority of the funds is paid by the offenders themselves in the form of court fees, Charles said. Approximately $35 in court fees are collected from each local circuit court case in addition to $25 from district court cases and $3 from each traffic court case where fees are applied, she said.

Much of that money also trickles down to local victims' assistance programs, including county government and nonprofit partner organizations in Montgomery County, said Donna C. Becker and Briggitte McLean, both victim assistants with the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services' Victim Assistance and Sexual Assault Program.

"We receive some state money and also a lot of our efforts are funded by grants we are able to obtain for victims assistance programs," Becker said, explaining that the VASAP assistants often refer victims to state services that might be able to provide more relief than the county-based program. "The maximum [amount] we can offer a single victim is $2,500."

Other assistance programs presented Monday were also grateful for both the state public safety department's help and the chance to network at the department-sponsored event, which helps connect lesser-known assistance programs and nonprofits to one another.

"It's a good way for us to refer to the other service organizations that are able to provide [our victims] with additional services," said Allison Bennett, the coordinator of the University of Maryland's Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Program, who handed out fliers and information packets at the fair.

"Also so that [the other programs] are aware that we exist in case they come across someone who might be eligible for our services they can say ‘hey, here's a group located on campus that can help you, too,' " Bennett added. "No one organization can handle everything."

For additional information regarding compensation and other victim assistance initiatives offered by the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, visit www.dpscs.maryland.gov.

A variety of victims groups also operate specifically in Montgomery County, including the county health department's Victim Assistance and Sexual Assault Program, which can be reached at vasap@montgomerycountymd.gov or 240-777-1355.