Crime Victim Compensation and Services in Washington, D.C.

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes for our first show of 2014, a show topic that’s very near and dear to my heart; crime victim services in the District of Columbia. Also be talking about crime victim’s issues throughout the United States. We have two guests at our microphones. Bonnie Andrews, she is the Victim Services Program Manager for my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, We also have Laura Banks Reed. She is the Director of the Crime Victim’s Compensation Program for the DC Superior Court,, and to Bonnie and Laura, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Bonnie Andrews:  Hello.

Laura Banks Reed:  Thank you.

Len Sipes:  Now both of you do two different things and I do want to talk about a larger discussion of what’s happened, what happens in the District of Columbia, a larger discussion about what happens throughout the United States, but first of all, Bonnie, we represent a parole and probation agency and you represent victims coming into our parole and probation agency looking for assistance, correct?

Bonnie Andrews:  That’s correct.

Len Sipes:  Tell me a little bit about what you do.

Bonnie Andrews:  Our office assists victims that are, have been victimized by the offenders that we supervise at CSOSA. So any victim that has been either victimized or re-victimized by an offender under the supervision of CSOSA can receive services in our program.

Len Sipes:  And the whole idea in terms of victim services across the board is to cut through the clutter, to have a friendly voice to guide you in terms of dealing with your victim issues, as it pertains, in our case, to people under our supervision, right? So there’s somebody there, specifically you, who help people get through the maze, get through the confusion and get the answers they need. Correct?

Bonnie Andrews:  That’s correct. You know, sometimes we have to get that, the trust of that victim or, because they think that we are probation officers or we are CSOs, that’s community supervision officers and the information that the victim might share with us is going to get back to that offender. So we have to get the trust of the victim and reassure them that whatever information that they provide to us is going to be held in confidence and no information will be shared with either the probation officer, the offender or anyone else, for that matter, unless it’s going to hurt that person or someone else.

Len Sipes:  And that’s something I want to talk about further in the program, because people have a concern. They’re frightened of the criminal justice system. They’re frightened of any bureaucracy. They’re frightened about any governmental entity and you know, we need to reassure people that we have specialists on board throughout the criminal justice system who will act as their advocate, it doesn’t have to be that difficult. I do want to talk about that in a couple seconds, but first I want to talk with Laura Banks Reed. Now Laura, you’re with the, you’re the Director of the Crime Victim’s Compensation Program for the DC Superior Court. Give me a sense as to what it is that you do.

Laura Banks Reed:  The compensation program for the District of Columbia provides assistance to victims of violent crime with the financial expenses that they often suffer as a result of being victimized.

Len Sipes:  People can get money back if they can prove that they cooperated with the criminal justice system – money for injuries, money for God forbid, funerals, money for hospital bills, and so the DC Superior Court administers that program, correct?

Laura Banks Reed:  That’s correct. But it’s not, excuse me, money in the sense that if you’re assaulted we pay you a certain amount. This is a program that provides assistance to victims and the payment of their expenses. So if they let’s say that someone is assaulted and they have to go to the hospital.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laura Banks Reed:  If they have insurance, their insurance will pay for the their medical care. But if there’s a copayment that they have to pay, that is something that they can make application to the Crime Victim’s Compensation Program.

Len Sipes:  Okay, so funds that are not being reimbursed for, they can make application to the Crime Victim’s Compensation Program?

Laura Banks Reed:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  Okay. So we have, in essence, two distinct forms of victim services within the District of Columbia and I do want to add the fact that the Metropolitan Police Department has victim’s representatives, United State’s Attorney’s Office, our prosecutor here in the District of Columbia, they have a victim’s representative, the Attorney General’s Office, and all of the other federal agencies, whether they be the Park Police or whether they be the FBI or whatever, all of us, all the criminal justice agencies in the District of Columbia have victim assistance, correct?

Bonnie Andrews:  That’s correct. That’s correct. And we all work closely together.

Len Sipes:  Right, and you all share information and you all point out problems to each other and propose solutions for the entire criminal justice system.

Bonnie Andrews:  Well, we try to work together for the victim, making sure that the victim’s needs are always out in the front of us and how we can best serve that person and help them heal through what has been, in most cases, a very traumatic experience.

Len Sipes:  Right, right. And I also want to get on to the trauma part of it, but people listening throughout the United States, every large criminal justice agency, it doesn’t matter where they are, they could be listening to this program in Honolulu, they could be listening in Des Moines, Iowa, they could be listening in France, for that matter. Most larger, criminal justice agencies now have a victim’s representatives throughout that structure. So there is a place where people can go to if they feel that they have questions, they feel that they have issues, that they don’t have to be frightened of us with in the criminal justice system. There’s always a friendly face and a friendly voice somewhere in that criminal justice bureaucracy who can help them.

Bonnie Andrews:  Absolutely, but you know, more times than not, I’ve had victims that will come to me and say, you know, they might be at the end of this judicial experience and they’ll say, “I wish I’d had known that this office was here, before now, or no one every told me that these services were here. And you’re absolutely right. Most agencies that either prosecute, supervise, or police the judicial or are in the judicial process will have a victim’s services advocate to serve victims.

Len Sipes:  Okay, I mean, that’s the thing that frightens me the most, is people sitting out there and saying to themselves, “You know, I wonder, I just laid out $3,000 out of my own pocket for medical expenses because I was injured during that robbery. Is there anybody who can help me? I wonder what the police officer is doing to solve my case? I wonder what parole and probation”, in this case us, Bonnie, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, “I wonder what they’re doing in supervising that person when they come out of prison or while under probation.” They don’t have to wonder, all they have to do is pick up the phone, call the main number for that agency and ask for their victim’s representative.

Bonnie Andrews:  Absolutely, or ask for a victim’s advocate, ask for someone that can help guide them through the judicial process. But we rely a lot, even though we provide services for victims and resources, we rely heavily on Laura’s program.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Bonnie Andrews:  You know, I can’t imagine this process without her program, or how we would serve victims without her program.

Len Sipes:  Well, people expect me to say this because I represent in one small way, the District of Columbia Criminal Justice System, but the Superior Court, people need to understand this who are listening to this program beyond Washington DC, the Superior Court is an extraordinarily comprehensive entity. I mean, I’ve never seen a court system with so many specialty courts and so many judges who are active in the community, active in these special courts. And so it seems to me that victim’s compensation and victim’s services would go hand in hand with the role of the DC Superior Court. But I think that the quality of the criminal justice system in the District of Columbia is not only higher, but much higher than I’ve seen in other cities. Do you think that’s correct?

Bonnie Andrews:  I agree, absolutely.

Laura Banks Reed:  I think so.

Bonnie Andrews:  I might be a little prejudiced of that –

Len Sipes:  Yeah, we might be just a tad prejudiced about that.

Bonnie Andrews:  But I do agree. I was having a conversation with Laura and I was saying, “Heaven forbid I’m ever a victim, but if I ever were to be a victim, I would want to be one in DC.”

Len Sipes:  Yeah, I understand that. And I understand exactly what you’re saying. All right, so Bonnie, you’ve been doing this, did you say for 17 years?

Bonnie Andrews:  20.

Len Sipes:  20 years!

Bonnie Andrews:  I’ve been in Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency; this is my 13th year at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency.

Len Sipes:  Right, but you were in victim’s issues before that?

Bonnie Andrews:  I spent two years with the United States Attorney’s Office, right up the street.

Len Sipes:  Ah, okay.

Bonnie Andrews:  An prior to that I was in private practice. I worked with crime victims.

Len Sipes:  Fun. And Laura, you’ve been doing this for how many years?

Laura Banks Reed:  For 17 years.

Len Sipes:  17 years, you’re the one that’s been doing this for 17 years. So we we’re talking about 37 years, close to 40 years between the two of you in terms of serving victims of crime. What’s your principal impression of this issue in terms of that near 40 years experience that I have sitting at this table right now? What is your principal perception of this issue of crime victims and what government is capable or not capable of doing?

Laura Banks Reed:  Well, in Washington DC, victim services has grown incredibly over say, the past 15 years. As you mentioned, there are victim service providers in all of the law enforcement agencies. And there is a wonderful cadre of non-profit organizations.

Len Sipes:  Tell me about those. I didn’t realize that we had a lot of non-profit organizations out there. Tell me about those.

Laura Banks Reed:  We do, and they are very, very, very good at what they do.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Laura Banks Reed:  As you mentioned earlier, the court has a lot of special programs for the community and one of them is the domestic violence intake center, which is, there’s one located in Superior Court, and there’s also a satellite office located in the United Medical Center, in Southeast, what used to be greater Southeast Hospital is now United Medical. And there’s a satellite Domestic Violence Unit there. And it is comprised of non-profit organizations, advocates from law enforcement agencies, and it creates a one stop place that a victim of domestic violence can come to the courthouse and get all the services that they really need. One of the services that the Crime Victim’s Compensation Program provides is the cost of temporary emergency shelter. And so because we are part of the court and we are so close to the main courthouse, domestic violence victims can walk the block and a half from the main courthouse directly to our office and receive services right there on the spot.

Len Sipes:  That reminds me, there are layers to all of this. There is the issue of sexual assault, rape and sexual assault. That issue has an array of non-profit organizations that advocate for that particular issue. There’s domestic violence, people advocate for that issue. There’s child abuse – people – so that’s what you’re talking about in terms of the non-profit community, and you’re right, there’s a whole endless series of organizations out there, around those three areas; child abuse, domestic violence and rape and sexual assault. But the principle number of people, I’m assuming, that you’re going to see, are what I refer to, not out of disrespect, but to garden variety crime victim in terms of being the victim of a robbery, the victim of a burglary, the victim of somebody stealing their automobile. I mean, the chances are the numbers are much greater that you’re going to be the victim of those sort of crimes than either rape or child abuse or domestic violence, correct?

Bonnie Andrews:  I wouldn’t say so.

Len Sipes:  All right, tell me, go ahead. Please, correct me. Feel free to correct me.

Bonnie Andrews:  In our office, at least in our office, 90% of the victims that we see are victims of domestic violence.

Len Sipes:  Really?

Laura Banks Reed:  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  Really?

Bonnie Andrews:  Last year, our numbers increased as far as gunshot victims.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Bonnie Andrews:  We had quite a few young men that came into our office to get services for, as a result of gunshot wounds that they received in the District of Columbia.

Len Sipes:  Really?

Bonnie Andrews:  And those services, those men were referred to Ms. Reed’s program for
counseling, for you know, PTSD as a result of being shot on the street; medical services, they needed physical therapy following their treatment in the hospital; in some cases they needed to relocate because they had concerns of their safety. So the victims that we see, we have a variety of victims that we see, but the majority of the victims are a result of domestic violence.

Len Sipes:  All right, I stand corrected.  We’re going to take this opportunity to reintroduce both of you because we’re more than halfway through the program. Bonnie Andrews is the victim services program manager for my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, She’s by our microphones. Laura Banks Reed, she’s the Director of the Crime Victim’s Compensation Program for the DC Superior Court,, Laura, so people when they come to you and they say to themselves, “Okay, insurance took care of a lot of it, but I have about $2000 in out of pocket expenses. I have this amount of property damage done or God forbid, I need to bury my son and I don’t have the money to do it. That’s when they do come to the Crime Victim’s Compensation Program for the DC Superior Court, right?

Laura Banks Reed:  Yes, absolutely. And they’re, the program is operated under a statute and so there are certain eligibility requirements. First of all, well, let me also share with you that there are crime victim compensation programs in every state in the United States.

Len Sipes:  Throughout the country, yes.

Laura Banks Reed:  And there are many foreign countries who also have compensation programs. So there, in order to be eligible for the compensation program in DC, the crime has to have occurred in DC.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laura Banks Reed:  If the crime occurs in Maryland but you live in DC, you go to the Maryland compensation –

Len Sipes:  Right, and there’s that, after working for 14 years for the State of Maryland, there is a Crime Victim’s Compensation Board for the State of Maryland, under the Maryland Department of Public Safety.

Laura Banks Reed:  There is.

Len Sipes:  Same thing in Virginia.

Laura Banks Reed:  Right.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Laura Banks Reed:  And the crime has to occur in DC, the maximum that we can pay for an entire event is $25,000; the victim cannot have been engaged in illegal conduct, which caused his injuries. That would disqualify them from help.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laura Banks Reed:  The crime has to be reported to the police, but there are several exceptions and there are exceptions for domestic violence victims, if they seek a civil protection order, then they are eligible for the compensation program; for sexual assault victims, if they seek a sexual assault examination, then, and don’t have a police report, then they would also be eligible. And in child cruelty cases, if a neglect petition has been filed, then it’s not necessary for that family to have to bring in a police report. The crime has to be reported to the police within 7 days, if that’s at all possible. There are some circumstances where that’s not possible to do. And the application has to be filed within a year of the crime or at least within a year of learning of the program.  If there was some legitimate reason that you did not know about the Crime Victim’s Compensation Program, then you would have a year from the point when you reasonably should have known, to file your application. And so we help out with medical bills, yes, unfortunately, we help with funeral expenses, the coast of mental health counseling, lost wages, if a victim is so badly injured that they can’t go to work anymore.

Len Sipes:  Who helps you guys out?

Bonnie Andrews:  We help each other.

Laura Banks Reed:  We do.

Len Sipes:  That’s the question –

Laura Banks Reed:  We really do.

Len Sipes:  That’s the question I want to ask. I mean, it’s like, when I was a police officer, dealing with victims of crime was very difficult, because it was right at that moment and they had a thousand questions and I had four or five more calls stacked up to get to and I really couldn’t give all the time. Now, to my own credit, a lot of times I would go back to that person two or three days later and say, “I couldn’t answer all these questions that night, but I’ll try to answer your questions now.” But it takes a toll, does it not, dealing with victims and their circumstances?

Bonnie Andrews:  Absolutely.

Laura Banks Reed:  It does. There have been times when I have called Bonnie and said, “Bonnie, I need to talk to a supervisor.” But there is, I think, a strong sense of camaraderie in the victim services field that has developed over the years. Many of us who are in this field have been in it for a long time and –

Len Sipes:  Is there ever a compassion burnout, fatigue? Compassion fatigue?

Laura Banks Reed:  Well, it’s a deep thing.

Len Sipes:  Ever get to the point where, “My God, if I talk to one more victim of crime, I think I’m going to go to Timbuktu.”

Bonnie Andrews:  You know –

Len Sipes:  Sit in the bathtub for two weeks.

Bonnie Andrews:  It comes periodically, but you get that one case that comes in just right on time. And I say right on time, because it puts into perspective of why we are still doing this or why we come to work every day. And see these people that are at probably the worst day of their life on that day that we’re seeing them. And you know, what can I give that person to help them feel a little bit better when they leave my office? And so when that person comes in and they leave with a smile on their face, or they can breathe a little better, or they can say, you know, “I feel like I’m going to be okay now.” Or, “Thank you. I didn’t have this information when I came here and you’ve helped me. You’ve given me some light at the end of this very dark tunnel.” Then it puts into perspective of why we continue to come back every day and do this all over again. And when that day doesn’t come, then of course, I call Laura and say, “Can I come and sit on your couch for about 30 minutes during my lunch break?” [Laughter]

Len Sipes:  Well, I mean, when I was there, as a police officer, I found myself feeling profoundly inept, because this was before the day and age of victim representatives in agencies and they had a thousand questions, and I remember a woman yelling at me, one night, basically saying, “Don’t you understand what this means to me? Don’t you understand how this is has destroyed my life? And I have a thousand questions. Who’s going to answer these thousand questions? And by the way, when I have a thousand more tomorrow, who’s going to be there for me? Who represents me?” And I remember that. I remember that to this day. “Who represents me?” Now we have people who represent them.

Bonnie Andrews:  We are, we do.

Laura Banks Reed:  We do, and it is very rewarding work when you can, because these, for most people, these are life altering events.

Len Sipes:  Yes, they are.

Laura Banks Reed:  There’s life before the crime, and then there’s your life after the crime. And things are, you end up with a new normal. Things are never quite the same again. And it’s nothing that can be cured. But if you have people who are willing to talk with you, and help you with the issues that they can, they can’t make your life like it was before the crime, but we can certainly make the life that you have after it a lot better, a lot less stressful, a lot better in form. And –

Len Sipes:  Because if somebody has questions about what happened on the law enforcement side or what happens, Bonnie, on the parole and probation side or what happens in terms of victims compensation programs, or what happens in terms of the prosecutor’s office, you can pick up the phone and call the victim’s rep for that agency and say that Mrs. Johnson is really confused about this and she really needs some assistance, can you call Mrs. Johnson and straighten her out on these particular issues?

Bonnie Andrews:  And I have no problem with doing that, because I know what my limitations are, and I think that that’s what makes a good advocate, knows that we all have certain limitations, we all have an expertise and to operate within that expertise. And you know, if there’s any information that I don’t have,  I can pick up the phone, I can walk upstairs to MPD, Victim’s Services and ask someone on that staff. I can walk down the street to the US Attorney’s Office Victim’s Services, ask someone on that staff, or either in Mrs. Reed’s office, and what’s so unique about the District is that within one block we have the US Attorney’s office, we have the District of the Court, we have the MPD Victim’s Services and of course CSOSA within that one block. So –

Laura Banks Reed:  And OAG too.

Bonnie Andrews:  Right. And so the victim can go through the judicial process without ever leaving the block.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing. And there is, and people sometimes will kid me, they say that I’m overplaying my hand, but there is a level of cooperation within the District of Columbia Criminal Justice System that I don’t think I have seen elsewhere from not just victims but even at the highest levels of agency heads talking to each other. But you know, it’s just that it is, it is a life shaking, Laura you said it, it’s a life altering process for that person to go through, and they’re very frustrated with the criminal justice system. Bonnie, you know, you’ve taken a look at the national levels, out of the 7 million people who are involved in the correctional system, 4 of those 7 million are under community supervision. Throughout my career, and now, people will call me up as the spokesperson for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and say, “Why is John Doe on the street?” I said, “Well, ma’am, he received a sentence of probation.” “Probation? Well what does that mean?” Sometimes it’s a matter of explaining basics to individuals as to how the system works, right?

Bonnie Andrews:  Right, and we get those questions quite frequently. I got a call Monday from a victim. Her daughter was sexually abused by her long time boyfriend. And she had heard that the offender was released, well, he wasn’t, he was released to a halfway house. So you know, I can’t answer all of her questions, but I could refer her to someone who could answer her questions and that’s part of being a good advocate, is having the resources to send that victim to when I don’t have the answers.

Len Sipes:  Uh huh, but you can also explain what a halfway house is. I mean, to a lot of people they have no idea what a halfway house is.

Bonnie Andrews:  I could give her information that she did not have when she called me.

Len Sipes:  And you can say, “If you have additional questions, call me, or call our, call MPD or call the United States Attorney’s Office.” We only have a couple minutes left in the program ladies. What have I not mentioned that I need to mention about this issue of crime victim services, not just in the District of Columbia but throughout the United States?

Laura Banks Reed:  I think that what DC, the victim services in DC represents is an effort to provide what we call a continuum of care for victims. And it’s a model that’s very effective, but the victim is not left alone to fend for themselves. I mean, when one hand finishes, the other hand grabs the victim and then we pass the victim on to the next set of services that they need.

Len Sipes:  So a continuum of care throughout the criminal justice system and the fact that all of you work with each other on a day to day basis, talk to each other on a day to day basis –

Bonnie Andrews:  Yes, absolutely.

Len Sipes:  I mean, so, and you guys have been around for quite some time.

Laura Banks Reed:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  So you –

Laura Banks Reed:  Dinosaurs.

Len Sipes:  [Laughter] So my point was that you also have the experience to help a person out and you also have the sensitivity to help a person out or you wouldn’t have been doing it for as long as you have.

Bonnie Andrews:  Right, and I think we were doing this collaborating before it became popular.

Len Sipes:  There you go.

Bonnie Andrews:  You know, we have been doing this, when I was at the US Attorney’s Office we were collaborating with each other.

Len Sipes:  Good.

Bonnie Andrews:  So we bring the definition of collaboration to the table.

Len Sipes:  Good. Well, Laura, final comments? 15 seconds?

Laura Banks Reed:  Well, I just would like for your listeners to know that the, the compensation program does have limits for many of the expenses that it can pay, but the overall maximum is $25,000.

Len Sipes:  Okay. I want to thank you both for being on the program today. I think it’s an issue, victim services is an issue that’s very important to all three of us in this room and to our agency, so I thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, our guests today have been Bonnie Andrews; she is the Victim Services Program Manager for my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, Laura Banks Reed, she is the Director of the Crime Victim’s Compensation Program for the DC Superior Court, Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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