U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Denise George recently joined a coalition of state and territorial attorneys general representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories urging Congress to adopt key changes to the Victims of Crime Act that provide critical financial support to victims of violent crimes and their families.
A social media campaign has been launched in this effort using hashtags #VOCAFIX #Crisis4Victims. Other national groups participating in the online campaign include the National District Attorney Association, the National Network to End Domestic Violence and National Alliance to End Sexual Violence.
In an August 2020 letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, and the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, the attorneys general call on Congress to adopt changes to the Crime Victims Fund, a national fund that supports state victims’ services programs.
The recommendations will stabilize the fund’s finances and provide more flexibility to grantees who are providing services to victims and their families. The Virgin Islands Department of Justice has been a recipient of Victims of Crime Act funding for several years.
“We support the online campaign and all efforts to expand funding for crime victims in the Virgin Islands and throughout the nation. Our letter supports the Victims of Crime Act’s funding increases for direct compensation to crime victims. In the Virgin Islands, this funding not only provides victim assistance services to fund and support victims of crime but also allows us to hire a victim advocate to support them through the court trial processes. I am urging Congress to take the necessary steps to better serve local crime victims at a time when they need essential and critical services most,”, said Attorney General George.
The fund, established by the Victims of Crime Act of 1984, is the primary funding source for victim services in all 50 states and six U.S. territories. Deposits to the fund originate from criminal fines, forfeited bail bonds, penalties and special assessments collected by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, federal courts and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The fund covers the expenses of essential services and support for victims and survivors in the aftermath of a crime, including medical care, mental health counseling, lost wages, courtroom advocacy and temporary housing.
The financial health of the Crime Victims Fund is at risk. In 2015, Congress increased the cap on distributions to the fund, allowing 2.5 million more victims to receive support. While “deposits have sharply decreased in recent years due to a decline in the fines and penalties recouped from federal criminal cases, withdrawals have increased at a rapid pace,” according to the letter.
The attorney general coalition makes three recommendations to promote the sustainability of the fund and preserve access to programs and services:
- Redirect fines and fees from corporate deferred and non-prosecution agreements to the fund: The Department of Justice increasingly uses deferred and non-prosecution agreements to resolve corporate misconduct. The coalition asks Congress to redirect these deposits to the fund. In 2018 and 2019, recoveries resulting from these agreements were about $8 billion each year.
- Increase the rate of federal reimbursement to states for victim compensation programs: The fund currently reimburses state programs that provide financial assistance to victims at a rate of 60 percent, the remainder usually being funded by fines and fees in state courts. The letter recommends Congress reimburse state and territorial programs at a rate of 75 percent.
- Extend the amount of time VOCA funds can be spent: the Victims of Crime Act requires recipients to spend grants within a four-year period. The coalition asks Congress to extend the period of funding so that state and local organizations can better plan and predict funding for long-term services.
Joining Attorney General George in the filing of this letter to Congress are the attorneys general from the states and territories of Massachusetts, Montana, Alabama, Alaska, American Samoa, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
The National Association of Attorneys General played a key role in facilitating this letter.