Council lobbies for crime victim rights
Representatives from across the state met last Thursday and Friday in Price for the annual Utah Council on Victims of Crime conference.
According to the chairman of the council, Reed Richards, the group has been the moving force behind all legislation dealing with violent crime victims' rights.
Once a year, the group meets in a different part of the state to discuss legislation the members would like to see lobbied and crime victim advocacy programs they would like to implement.
The Utah Council on Victims of Crimes began about 15 years ago, explained Richards. The group's first initiative was to develop a program that would provide restitution to people who have been the victims of violence.
The Utah Crime Victim Reparations Program resulted.
UCVRP is designed to help victims and their families overcome the physical, emotional and financial trauma that results from violent crimes.
"The state has always been focused on the criminal," pointed out Laura Blanchard of the Children's Justice Center in Provo. "Until we focus on the victim, we are fighting a losing battle."
Qualifying applicants for the fund must be Utah residents or the victims of an injurious crime that occurred within the state.
Applicants must also have reported the crime to a law enforcement agency and cooperated fully with any investigation of the offense.
Applicants whose own misconduct contributed to the crime or who were illegally engaged at the time of the crime will not qualify.
According to the council, qualifying victims or their families may be entitled to medical and dental care, mental health counseling, funeral and burial expenses, relocation and related costs, rent, loss of earnings, loss of support to dependents and child care.
Awarded victim reparation amounts may be up to $25,000.
Program applications must be made to the Utah Crime Victim Reparations office. Forms may be obtained from the Carbon County Sheriff's Office.
In addition to the reparation program, the crime victims council also penned an amendment to the Utah Constitution allowing victims the same rights as defendants.
The victims' rights include notification of court dates and being involved in all criminal proceedings.
Reed said the system is not perfect and the council is currently working on an automatic notification system that will inform victims of all court events of the assaulter, including work release dates or prison transfers.
Other programs dedicated to assisting victims of violent crimes include a weeklong training academy at Weber State University for advocates and an annual conference for victims, which takes place at the Utah Capitol.
The local violent crime victims' agency is facilitated through the county sheriff's office. Kathy Parker, the 7th District victim's rights chair, writes grants to the support the local advocate, Debby Kobe.
Kobe originally began as a part-time advocate. However, as Carbon County residents became aware of the program, Kobe's services were needed on a full-time basis, explained the local chairperson.
According to Parker, the responsibility of the advocates is to evaluate the needs of the victim.
Advocates take the steps to ensure the victims are safe and get them the medical treatment and counseling they need.
Advocates also guide victims through the reparation program, familiarize them as to court proceedings and accompany them to all court dates.
Parker said that although the program is primarily in Carbon, it does extend somewhat into Emery county.
For additional information, local residents may contact the Utah Office of Crime Victim Reparations at 801-238-2360 or the sheriff's office.