Policy Advocacy

Though crime affects all races, ages, and genders, African Americans and Latinos (especially under 30) are more likely to have been a victim of three or more crimes in the past five years. In addition, the majority of crime goes unreported--meaning there is no justice system response to the majority of crime. Meanwhile, our current justice priorities don’t support or protect the majority of victims, don’t stop cycles of crime, worsen life and health outcomes for people in the system and their families, and have a severely racially disparate impact on communities of color.

Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice exists to elevate the voices of crime survivors in justice policy debates and prioritize investments in prevention and health over jails and prisons. Read more about our advocacy work, and what we have accomplished together, below.

Our Organizing Curriculum

We have designed a groundbreaking organizing training curriculum, “Building a Network of Leaders To Win New Safety Priorities”. This curriculum was designed to recruit and train new chapter members as organizers that can win justice reform campaigns at the local and state level. The curriculum includes 12 training modules and encompasses: training on who is the most harmed and least helped by current safety and justice investments; how mass incarceration makes us all unsafe; the new safety priorities impacted communities need; trauma-informed grassroots organizing; public speaking and winning policy campaigns.

Advocating for Underserved Victims in California: The Victims of Crime Act (VOCA)

 

In 1984, the United States Congress passed the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) establishing the federal Crime Victims Fund as the primary source of financial support program serving victims throughout the country. These funds are distributed to all 50 states, which in turn allocate grants to programs that assist and compensate victims of crime. As of 2014, more than $10 billion has been deposited into the Fund.

Government-funded victims’ services were put in place to help survivors of crime, but too often these programs fail to reach populations that most commonly experience crime, especially repeat crime – in particular low-income people of color. A look at some facts about the most likely victims of crime shows why this need is so great:

  • African Americans and Latinos are more likely (than other ethnic groups) to have been the victim of three or more crimes in the past five years.

  • Victims of violent crime are more likely to be low-income, young (under 30), and Latino or African American.

  • Young men of color are disproportionately impacted by violent crime:  in California alone, they accounted for more than 22% of all homicide victims from 2012 – 2014.

Crime victims and survivors historically have had great difficulty accessing trauma and other financial and support services that can help them recover from their experience – and reduce the possibility of repeated incidents. Californians for Safety and Justice is part of a national effort to help advocates and providers ensure that communities who are most harmed and least helped are not left behind. Until recently, Congress had capped the amount available for distribution in order to minimize the effect of fluctuating deposits on funding levels.  Service providers and leaders across the country advocated for more of the Fund to be distributed to more effectively meet the needs of crime victims – especially those who continue to fall through the cracks – and in December 2014 those efforts paid off.

This past year, Congress lifted the cap on VOCA distributions – and by historic proportions. The Fund had been limited to $745 million the previous year but jumped to $2.361 billion in Fiscal Year 2015, representing a more than 200% increase over the FY 2014 cap. Although a significant portion of that amount is earmarked for pre-designated purposes, the increase means that many new dollars are available to help those with the most desperate need -  previously overlooked crime victims and survivors.

The additional VOCA funds are a great opportunity to help close huge gaps in services and address longstanding barriers for underserved populations. However, without tremendous diligence by service providers and advocates who support these crime victims, the new funds may continue to go to the same organizations as in past years. A strong push is needed now to ensure that those most in need receive support.

Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice is on the front lines of elevating the voices of marginalized crime victims, and is now working to help steer VOCA funds to historically overlooked populations. To assist in this effort, we have created an advocacy toolkit to help organizations ensure that newly available VOCA funds are distributed to programs that support underserved victims of crime. The toolkit provides information on how to navigate the VOCA system – which can be complicated given that every state’s process is different. The toolkit offers guidance on how to determine who is responsible for VOCA funding decisions in one’s state, and how to make sure decision-makers understand and respond to the unmet needs that exist.

In addition, Equal Justice USA had created a toolkit that explains how community based organizations can apply for VOCA funds.

For more information, see our VOCA Fact Sheet.

More Resources for Trauma Recovery

As with any serious health issue—cancer, stroke, and bodily injury—early comprehensive care is critical for a good outcome. Unfortunately, victims of traumatic crimes often face significant hurdles accessing immediate and comprehensive support to recover from that experience. Often they are not aware that the state offers compensation for certain health and support services or are unable to access comprehensive services. If approved for compensation, victims must also navigate a difficult and bureaucratic process, being required to go to many different agencies, and face long waiting periods—up to three months or more—to access compensation funds that can pay for support services.

CSSJ’s public and policymaker education efforts led, in 2013, to $2 million in new funds to the state’s Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board (VCGCB), specifically so that the agency would give those funds as grants to create more Trauma Recovery Centers across the state.

These centers offer rapid, comprehensive health and recovery treatment to victims of violent crime—all in one location—right when they need it the most, immediately after the traumatizing event. These centers are modeled on the extremely successful Trauma Recovery Center (TRC) in San Francisco. SF was the first (and for a long time) only trauma recovery center in CA, established in 2001.

With $2 million in new annual funding from the state’s Victim Compensation Program, three new centers opened in Los Angeles County.

Then, in 2014, CSSJ members continued their advocacy efforts and were successful in making the new $2 million a permanent, annual expenditure in California’s budget. Specifically, those funds opened two more centers in San Joaquin and Solano counties. Trauma Recovery Centers has now expanded to six centers across the state.

In addition, our Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice network helped pass Proposition 47, and 10% of the savings from reduced incarceration will be allocated to victims compensation fund for trauma recovery center grants.

Get involved

There is tremendous opportunity to raise the voices of those most impacted by crime and call for new safety priorities that include increased investments in prevention and health nationwide. Let your voice be heard.

For more information about how to get involved, contact Aswad Thomas (aswad@safeandjust.org) to learn more.

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