April 22-28th is National Victims' Rights Week, which is meant to promote justice and awareness for victims of crime.
According to Commonwealth Victim Advocate Carol Lavery, the week "honors crime victims who have the strength to get up out of bed every day, to move forward with their lives despite what may have occurred to them at the hands of an offender."
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala is marking the week by expressing his concern over what he believes can further hurt victims, the elimination of funding for Victims of Juvenile Offenders (VOJO).
Under Governor Tom Corbett's current budget proposal, the state appropriation for VOJO was eliminated. That funding normally goes to cover employment costs for victim-witness coordinators who run services to victims of juvenile crimes.
Zappala said legislators need to restore VOJO funding in the general operating budget.
"Pennsylvania has a long history of supporting victims' rights, but without funding, the rights guaranteed to victims in the Crime Victims Bill of Rights are meaningless," said Zappala. "I understand that putting together a budget is a tough process, but tough choices also have to be the right choices."
Zappala said VOJO provides assistance to more than 60,000 victims and witnesses annually. He said the 2011-12 Corbett budget zeroed out funding for the program, but lawmakers, using a one-time infusion, restored $1.8 million. Zappala says it's unlikely that could happen again. The program received $3.4 million in the final budget of then Governor Ed Rendell.
Task Force Searches for Efficiency
A task force focused on examining current laws and policies related to restitution formed this week in Harrisburg. The Restitution Task Force is made up of legislators, judges, members of the Corbett administration, advocacy leaders, and victims of crime.
Victim Advocate Carol Lavery said the task force will look into what is working, and what is damaging to the current system. She said they will work to figure out legislative and administrative ways to maximize restitution.
She said a main problem is that Pennsylvania does not take full advantage of its resources.
"We have 67 counties and 67 different ways of doing things, some of which are very well done, and some of which is not well done," said Lavery. "To be able to share information across county lines and across the state will be very very helpful to make it more efficient."
Lavery said the task force will produce a report and recommendations to the Governor, legislature, and courts by the end of this year.