Keeping Victims Informed

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March 2009

A crime victim's right to know what is happening with his or her case and offender is a crucial component of victim rights' laws. 

Over the past two decades, which have seen many highly publicized sex crimes, states have focused on the victims of sexual assault and the risk—especially to children—that sexual predators place on communities after their release.  The right to be notified about where sexual predators are living now applies not only to victims, but also to the community at large. 

State Automated Victim Notification, used in 41 states, use technology to obtain data on offenders from county jails, courts and prisons. That information is then sent to the system's service center, which notifies victims and victim advocates.  

These victim notification programs, when integrated with state sex offender registry websites, provide victims and the public with up-to-date  notifications on the status of sex offenders.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance, part of the U.S. Department of Justice, awarded more than $33 million in grants to states to develop and implement such systems.

"The bureau recognizes the importance of bringing together victim services and resources to maximize efforts, allowing states and local agencies to address the needs of victims in a comprehensive way," says Dominigo S. Herraiz, the bureau's director.

States are taking different approaches to expand their notification programs to include sex offenders. In Virginia, lawmakers in 2008 authorized the state police to provide the victim notification system with sex offender registry data when requested by the state's Victim Compensation Board.  The board will use the information first to verify changes in the status of registered sex offenders and then to notify the victims.

North Carolina is integrating phone notification with the sex offender registry, which will call victims when a sex offender moves or fails to register. In Washington, victims can be told when a registered sex offender is out of compliance or there is a change in the registration information. 

 Crime Costs and the State of Corrections, March 2009