SC Victim Services moves into one office, legislation celebrated
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson today officially welcomed South Carolina’s victim services agencies into his office. A new state law that took effect July 1st moved the agencies so they’d be under one roof for better service and efficiency.
The move was one of the recommendations made by then-Gov. Nikki Haley’s Domestic Violence Task Force in May 2016. That recommendation said it would be more efficient and more effective for victims of crime if all the providers were in one place and collaborating, rather than being in separate agencies and locations. The move involves 65 state employees.
Attorney General Wilson says, “What we’re doing this month is the most important and consequential reform for crime victims in South Carolina since the Victim’s Bill of Rights was added to the state Constitution in 1998.”
Jackie Olsen, whose sister Mary Lynn Witherspoon was murdered in 2003, says, “All crime victims need immediate support, definitive answers and a TEAM that knows how to steer the boat! As a victim of crime, I see the marriage of victims’ services as a sigh of relief and a time to celebrate.”
Laura Hudson, executive director of the South Carolina Victim Assistance Network, pushed for the change for years and says, “Consolidation of crime victim services within the Office of the Attorney General will ensure citizens impacted by the tragedy of crime receive seamless, efficient access to services and compensation.”
Burke Fitzpatrick, director of the new SC Crime Victim Services Division, says, “We believe this change can greatly enhance the support and compassionate delivery of services to our citizens who’ve been victims of violent crime. Putting all state agencies that help victims under the Attorney General’s office has the potential to transform how we help victims restore their lives.”
Sara Barber, executive director of the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence And Sexual Assault (SCCADVASA), says, “Our hope is that the creation of this specialized division will increase the focus on identifying the diverse needs of victims of crime and provide the opportunity to increase our capacity to effectively respond and build paths to healing in every community across South Carolina.”
There were three agencies spread out in three locations. The State Office of Victim Assistance, known as SOVA, was in the Brown Building on the Statehouse campus and the Crime Victim Ombudsman was in the Wade Hampton Building. The office that handled Victims of Crime Assistance Grants, Violence Against Women Act grants, and State Victim Assistance Program grants was part of the Department of Public Safety and was located at DPS headquarters in Blythewood. Now, those three agencies will be four divisions, all part of the AG’s office and located in the Brown Building at the Statehouse.
The physical move of offices, people, and equipment is still going on but eventually there will be one phone number that victims will be able to call to get help.
SOVA will now be called the Department of Crime Victim Compensation. Its mission is to provide compensation to crime victims to fully restore their lives as much as possible. It’s like an insurance company of last resort. If a victim has insurance, that insurance will cover their losses first, but if some areas or amounts aren’t paid the victim can apply to the DCVC for help. Federal grants provide 60 percent of the funds for that compensation and state funds provide the other 40 percent.
The South Carolina Crime Victim Ombudsman is now the Department of Crime Victim Ombudsman. Its mission is to help victims of crime and citizens address problems, errors, or injustices in the criminal justice system so their rights are fully respected. For example, if a court fails to notify a victim of a perpetrator’s court date or of their rights under the Crime Victim’s Bill of Rights, the ombudsman will act as the victim’s advocate.
The Office of Highway Safety and Justice Programs of the Department of Public Safety that administers the Victims of Crime Act grants, the Violence Against Women Act grants, and the State Victim Assistance Program grants is now under the AG’s office and is called the Department of Crime Victim Assistance Grants. Its mission is to provide one-year grants to cities and counties for law enforcement, victim advocates, non-profits that provide shelter for women and children, rape crisis centers, and to pay for prosecutors at the local level, which allows solicitors to have prosecutors dedicated to criminal sexual conduct and domestic violence cases. Those grants are paid for with federal money. Violence Against Women Act grants are mostly federal but require a 25 percent state match. State Victim Assistance Program grants are not federally funded but are paid for with state prison inmates’ work-release fees from the Dept. of Corrections.
The new law also creates the new Department of Crime Victim Services Training, Provider Certification, and Statistical Analysis. Its mission has three parts:
1) To identify training needs for victim services providers, whether they’re law enforcement or non-profits, and to provide that training in a coordinated manner for the first time.
2) To monitor certification. Victim services providers like victim advocates have to undergo training and be certified and need recurrent certification. One person in this department will be dedicated to tracking the training of all victim services providers in the state.
3) To do statistical analysis. Promoting good policy and modern and best practices requires good data and analysis. This office will generate actionable reports that policymakers and grantmakers can use to provide better, more effective services for victims. For example, “Scared Straight” programs for juveniles seem like a good way to turn teens away from crime, but the data and statistics show they’re not effective at keeping them out of trouble.