Rights, Services, Technology and Training
More than 172 programs throughout Pennsylvania provide services annually to hundreds of thousands of individuals who are victims of crime. The amount and quality of those services depend on funding from government agencies and charitable organizations and. In fiscal year 2018, PCCD’s Office of Victims’ Services (OVS) provided over $57 million in state and federal funds to agencies and counties statewide to support services to over 570,000 victims of crime.
For Pennsylvania to maintain its reputation as a recognized leader in victims’ rights and services, it must have accomplished victim advocates in every county – large and small, urban and rural. In order to ensure that every victim, regardless of location or crime, has access to quality, timely, and appropriate services, the Victims’ Services Advisory Committee (VSAC) and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) adopted operational standards for those agencies receiving grant funding. These standards do not apply to STOP funding. View the standards here (PDF).
Bill of Rights for Crime Victims
Crime victims have many rights under the law. The Bill of Rights outlines what their rights are as crime victims.
Victims of Crime Act (VOCA)
VOCA supports the provision of direct services to victims of crime. This includes a broad array of services for victims of violence ranging from crisis intervention, shelter, counseling, and criminal justice advocacy. The Crime Victims Fund is comprised of fines, forfeitures, and penalty assessments on offenders of federally prosecuted cases. County allocations are determined by formula using the county’s population (75%) and target crimes (25%). Eligible activities are those direct services which respond to the emotional and physical needs of crime victims; assist victims of crime in stabilizing their lives after a victimization; assist victims in understanding and supporting them through the criminal and juvenile justice process; or provide victims of crime with a safe and secure environment. Ineligible activities include, but are not limited to, procedural services, prosecution and law enforcement activities, fundraising, crime prevention, and lobbying and administrative advocacy. PCCD has made a policy decision to limit the use of VOCA for procedural services. Funds in 2018/19 were awarded to 159 community based agencies and 15 system-based agencies in the 67 counties.
Rights and Services Act (RASA)
RASA provides financial support, training and technical assistance to county-based victim service agencies to promote the rights and services under Pennsylvania's Crime Victims Act. This funding source provides the primary financial support for the Victim/Witness Offices within the District Attorneys’ Offices. The source of funds for RASA is the Victim/Witness Fund which is comprised of a $25 penalty assessment on convicted/diverted offenders. County allocations are determined by a formula using the county’s population (75%) and target crimes (25%). Eligible activities support the full range of rights, services, and responsibilities within the criminal justice system outlined in the Crime Victims Act. (e.g. notification, accompaniment, assistance with victim impact statements, and crime victims compensation assistance.) Examples of ineligible activities include, but are not limited to, counseling/therapy, community/prevention education, prosecution activities, and restitution collection. In 2019/2020 approximately $19 million was awarded to 67 counties.
STOP Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
VAWA supports counties in promoting a coordinated, comprehensive approach to addressing violence against women with emphasis on the law enforcement, prosecutorial and victim services response. STOP is funded by an Annual Federal Appropriation. Project allocations are determined on a competitive basis. Eligible activities include but are not limited to: training; investigating and prosecuting domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and dating violence cases; protocol development, and enhancement of direct victim services (e.g. interpreter services, crime victim compensation assistance, crisis counseling, victim advocacy, etc). Examples of ineligible activities include, but are not limited to: batterer treatment programs, local PFA registries, housing, some equipment purchases, and prevention programs such as media campaigns for general awareness rather than for reaching victims. Thirty-one county teams received STOP grant funds in 2019/2020 for approximately $7.5 million.
Victims of Juvenile Offenders (VOJO)
VOJO provides financial support, training, and technical assistance to county-based victim service agencies to promote the rights and services to victims in the juvenile justice system. VOJO is funded by an Annual State Appropriation. County allocations are determined by a formula using the county’s juvenile population (75%) and juvenile dispositions at (25%). Eligible activities support the full range of rights, services, and responsibilities within the juvenile justice system outlined in the Crime Victims Act. (e.g. notification, accompaniment, assistance with victim impact statements and crime victims compensation assistance.) Examples of ineligible activities include, but are not limited to, counseling/therapy, community/prevention education, prosecution activities, victim/offender mediation programs, and restitution collection. In 2019/2020 approximately $3 million was awarded to 67 counties.
Justice Assistance Grant Funds (JAG)
JAG supports a wide range of activities at the state, regional and local levels that protect and support crime victims. The types of activities funded under JAG are not fundable under VOCA, STOP or RASA. JAG funding is discretionary and is awarded through an agency-wide solicitation process. In 2019/2020, $105,000 was awarded to the Archway Charter School of Chester County to develop a trauma-informed school community with a safe, caring school climate, high teacher retention, and an ideal state for student learning.
Technology in Victim Services
Efforts to Outcome (ETO) is the standardized data collection and reporting technology system provided to victim service programs that also has the functionality of an integrated case management system. Robust, yet streamlined collection and reporting of service and outcome data is especially important now, when agencies and organizations are stretching their budgets further and public needs and expectations for service delivery are increasing.
Tracking Offenders and Statistics
Pennsylvania Statewide Automated Victim Information and Notification (PA SAVIN) is a free service that provides round-the-clock access to the custody status of offenders in county jail, state prison or under state parole supervision in the commonwealth. PA SAVIN also provides automated telephone, email and/ or text message notifications of any change in an inmate’s incarceration status, including release, transfer or escape.
PA SAVIN notifications include:
- transfers to other prisons
- other types of offender custody changes
The activity of offenders in the prison system can be monitored through the website. The Bureau of Prison’s website offers an "Inmate Locator" service for federal inmates.
The Office of Victim Advocate (OVA), which is responsible for services and notifications to victims at the state level, worked with both the Department of Corrections and the Board of Probation and Parole to implement PA SAVIN. Most states use the SAVIN system.
To publicize the SAVIN initiative, PCCD supplies service organizations, on request, with brochures, posters, tear-off pads, and related materials.
The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and the Office of Victims' Services (OVS) strive to provide service professionals with training and opportunities that support and enhance the invaluable role that they serve in helping victims of crime. Funding can be used effectively only if service providers have the best planning tools and leadership skills to succeed long-term. Service providers have the option to take advantage of OVS sponsored trainings and the Pennsylvania Victim Service Training website that provides training for victim advocates at PCCD-funded programs and allied professionals whose work brings them into contact with crime victim populations.
The Foundational Academy assists new victim service professionals funded by VOCA and professionals with new RASA/VOJO responsibilities to identify and understand their roles and job responsibilities as outlined by Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency’s (PCCD’s) Consolidated Victim Service Standards.
The Foundational Academy is a mandatory training for all newly hired victim service staff governed under Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency's (PCCD) Consolidated Victim Service Standards (PDF). Agencies whose oversight organization is the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR), Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV) and/or National Children's Alliance (NCA), will abide by the relevant oversight organization's training standard. These agencies will not be required to attend the Foundational Academy.
This training is supported by a grant awarded to the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Institute (PDAI) by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD).
PCCD’s Office of Victims’ Services wanted to encourage capacity-building statewide. They turned to a research group from Penn State Harrisburg and formed a project team of experts from criminal justice, organizational development and training, and data collection and analysis.
The purpose of the project is to enhance the long-term stability, planning, leadership and effectiveness of victim service agencies across the commonwealth. The Organizational Capacity Building Project designed, developed, and continues to deliver appropriate services and technical assistance to improve the effectiveness and long-term sustainability for victim service agencies in the Commonwealth. To find out more information, please visit http://www.pacapacity.net/.
The OVS/Penn State project is a significant step in building up the quality and delivery of services to rebuild the lives of victims.
PCCD sponsors a three-day conference that provides an opportunity for more than 300 victim service providers and allied professionals to enhance their skills, network, and rejuvenate. The conference is held every two years.
This conference allows for an opportunity to network with victim service and allied professionals (e.g. probation officers, prevention education specialists, social workers, drug and alcohol counselors, and law enforcement). Attendees enhance their knowledge base by learning new techniques and emerging issues used in the victim services field as well as strengthen their leadership, grant management, organizational capacity and recruitment skills.
The Governor and the Office of Victims' Services annually recognize individuals and a program that provides outstanding services to victims of crime in Pennsylvania. A Governor's Victim Pathfinder Award is the most prestigious award that Pennsylvania gives to a victim service professional or program.
Provide Online Training for Law Enforcement Officer
Training for law enforcement is essential but expensive. Training is especially needed in dangerous situations such as domestic violence, sexual assaults, stalking and date violence.
However, budget cuts have limited opportunities for in-classroom learning since law enforcement officers need to be on patrol and off-hours overtime pay is limited. Local victim service providers have admirably assumed responsibility for meeting some of these training needs with recognition that police officers are more likely to participate and learn faster from their peers.
To do that, a PCCD grant to the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association launched online training and established the technological infrastructure for a virtual training academy.
Web-based training has shown its advantages with:
• anywhere, anytime learning
• no travel cost
• no overtime needed
• easy updating of course content
Included in the curriculum are modules on:
- violence against women issues, customized for law enforcement
- responding to domestic violence calls
- investigating and documenting evidence in domestic violence cases
- interviewing techniques for police to use with sexual assault victims
Other topics address protection from abuse orders, stalking cases, confidentiality issues, and the role of domestic violence advocates.
PCCD will continue to promote and collaborate with those committed to victim-related training to improve knowledge and practices by law enforcement, as well as allied professionals such as judges, prosecutors and victim advocates.