Section 2: Community Corrections and Crime Victims

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Why This? Why Now?

voice from the field
“It’s important for the victim and the Probation Officer to have a relationship. The experience of listening to a victim for two hours changed my perspective fundamentally. I now take a vastly different approach to each case. I have to be conscious of the other side of the case. Someone is affected by the poor decisions that the offender made. You cannot forget what happened. You have to keep a balance.”

As a Probation and Parole Officer (PPO), you have an essential role in promoting the safety of the community. Your role in ensuring community safety includes services to victims of crime. At times, you may find yourself without information or direction about the best way to work with crime victims. This is true whether you work in a large urban system that includes corrections-based victim advocates on staff; or in smaller, more rural programs where you may have fewer internal resources. Often, you have a large, complex caseload that limits the resources and time you spend on a given case. It may seem daunting to incorporate work with victims of crime into your schedule.

This guide is here to help you better anticipate and meet the needs of victims. As supervision becomes increasingly complex there is a real need to examine practices and protocols regarding victim assistance. For example, training for staff on the neurobiology of trauma can promote trauma-informed practices. Although trauma impacts individuals in many ways, there are also some common signs and symptoms. For instance, it is important to understand that although a victim may have been given information or opportunities to participate in the process prior to coming into contact with you, they may not have retained all the information. This is not a sign of indifference or not paying attention. It may be that they were told during a time when they just could not retain the information. Victims’ rights, needs, and experiences must be taken into account within community corrections .

Historically, the fields of victim advocacy and community corrections have been on separate tracks. While they share a common goal of public safety, the strategies used have sometimes conflicted with one another. The use of evidence-based practices in the community corrections field has required PPOs to become increasingly data-driven. This can conflict with community advocates serving victims who may have different measures of success. This guide provides integrated information to support collaboration between PPOs and victim advocates for the benefit of all involved parties.

The Unique Role of the PPO

The criminal justice system is complex and multifaceted, particularly in regard to how to interface with victims. Victims often have different or changing needs at various times within the system (i.e. pretrial, sentencing, reentry, post release) that need to be considered and responded to by you, as the PPO.

As the graphic below depicts, the justice system is not always linear and can feel like a maze. For example, not all arrests are accepted for prosecution. Similarly, those cases that do move forward with charging may result in a dismissal, a full trial, or plead with no trial. Likewise, your authority and responsibility to the victim may change based on your specific role and the specific point in the justice system. The complexity of the justice system and the changing roles of people working within it at various points in the process can be confounding for victims.

PPO Continuum

 

As a PPO, you may interact with and impact victims, and the work of victim advocates, at multiple stages of the criminal justice process. Specific points to highlight and attend to include:

Presentencing

You may be ordered to conduct a presentence investigation (PSI) where part of your responsibility is to outline the impact the crime has had on the victim and make recommendations regarding the restitution payment schedule and other legal financial obligations, such as child support. You may recommend conditions of release, including “no contact” recommendations that may be imposed during sentencing process. You may gather information from the victim either through a victim impact statement (VIS),

victim input
  • If you use a standard form to obtain information from the victim for a PSI, ensure that you or an advocate:
    • Call the victim prior to sending the letter so that he or she is aware that they will receive the letter and are aware of what the purpose of the VIS is; and
    • Send a detailed letter with the form that explains the purpose of the VIS and who will have access to the information.
  • When possible (especially in crimes of severe violence or loss of life), offer to meet in person with the victim to explain the PSI process.
  • Ask the victim if they have been working with a community- or system-based advocate and if it would be permissible to invite the advocate to the PSI preparation meeting.

through working with a victim advocate, and/or through directly interviewing the victim.

During the PSI may be the first time a victim is given an opportunity to share the impact of the offense. This can be a powerful process but can also be very challenging for a survivor.

Pre-Release, Parole & Reentry

puzzle piece
The criminal justice system is not always transparent or easily understood by people who do not work within it. Understandably, crime victims frequently have questions and concerns about how the system works; you are in a unique position to help explain a system that you understand well.

As a PPO, you may have direct or indirect involvement with victims prior to reentry and throughout the reentry process. Some jurisdictions offer victims the opportunity to submit a VIS at the time of reentry. Pre-release involvement with victims should focus on informing conditions of release/supervision, to include any restricted victim(s) contact if applicable, and victim safety planning. The level of contact you may have varies tremendously, based on other resources available to the victim (i.e. system-based advocates, community-based advocates), and the person under supervision (i.e. furlough, supervised community confinement, parole). Notification is essential regarding work release, pertinent reentry information, and when appropriate, timely death notifications.

For the purposes of parole investigations, whenever possible you should include the victim’s impact statement, protest material and safety concerns in reports submitted to the parole board. Additionally, ensure that the victim is fully apprised (either by you or a systems-based victim advocate) of the date, time, and location of the parole hearing, should they want to speak at the hearing. Advise the victim of all resulting decisions from relevant hearings.

Post-Release, Community Supervision, Probation Revocation and Violation of Supervision

Throughout the supervision period, you will want to be aware of notification related to all changes and updates, as allowed by law. These typically include notification and involvement of probation violations, prepping for a hearing when a no contact provision is violated, and updates on restitution. However, your role as a PPO is not limited to notification and should include involvement in victim safety meetings, if requested, and remaining accessible to victim advocates and the victim, as concerns arise.

As a PPO, you have many options and levels of graduated sanctions that you can impose when violations of supervisions occur. Sometimes, new criminal conduct results in arrest, a subsequent hearing and a disposition that could include a continuance of probation. Many victims believe that if a person violates their conditions of supervision, they go to prison for the full term. It is important to empower the victim from the beginning by explaining what a violation really means and what new options may look like.

The criminal justice system is not always transparent or easily understood by people who do not work within it. Understandably, crime victims frequently have questions and concerns about how the system works; you are in a unique position to help explain a system that you understand well.

ppo
Assistance with:
  • Enforcing no-contact and/or protective orders
  • Providing information about safety concerns in a release plan
  • Enforcing restitution payments as well as other legal or financial obligations such as child support
  • Referrals to community- or systems-based victim advocacy programs
  • Referrals to victims’ compensation programs
  • Completing a victim impact statement

What is in It For You as PPO?

Proactively engaging with victims and victim advocates is not only essential to your role as a PPO, it enhances it.

voice from the field
“Allow victims to have a voice and voice their opinion. Don’t be judgmental. Facilitate stuff, provide information. It’s a challenge for a lot of people: victims don’t want to come to a PPO office. If a victim wants to meet with you, go to them and meet them in a place that they name as safe for them. Be personable.”

Working with victims and victims’ advocates can produce a win-win for everyone.

When an individual is placed under your supervision, you may have the opportunity to engage with crime victims in order to better understand and address their needs and concerns. In turn, they can become reliable collateral contacts that can further the supervision goals of holding the supervisee accountable and enhancing victim and public safety.

When victims are included in your supervision work, they can:

  • Provide valuable historical information. Most victims had a prior relationship with the person under supervision. They may have provided a victim impact statement that can offer context to your preliminary investigations, risk assessments and supervision. There may also have been additional offenses that were never charged or convicted but that are relevant to your current supervision plan. Additionally, there may have been contact between the victim and the person incarcerated while in custody and this can be a rich source of collateral information that can help you score risk assessments and identify criminogenic needs.
  • Enhance your understanding of current context. Victims and victim advocates can provide insight into the patterns of behavior that you want to interrupt, for example, whether individuals under supervision are violating a court order by contacting the victim, if they struggle with addiction, or whether they are falsifying employment or income records to avoid restitution payments.
  • Promote positive outcomes for all involved parties. Victims may be more likely to contact you with concerns if things begin to unravel, so that you can prevent escalation and future criminal behavior.
resource

To find victim services programs in your area, visit the US Department Justice, Office for Victims of Crime Online Directory of Victim Services:

http://ovc.ncjrs.gov/findvictimservices/

You Are Not Alone

It is important to remember that it takes a network of resources that work together to identify and meet the needs of victims of crime. No one agency, organization, or person can do it alone. Involving partners can help you support victims and can help you in your efforts to effectively supervise the person who committed the crime.

In your community, there are likely many victim advocates available to support you and the victims you serve. In general, they can be divided into two categories: systems-based and community-based advocates. For more information on victim advocates, see section 5: Building Partnerships.

Find out what types of advocacy organizations are available in your area and take time to connect with them and explore how they can help you with your caseload. Making these connections can be invaluable to your work.

If your agency has victim advocates within your department or office, make sure you build a relationship with the advocates and work together to meet the needs of crime victims.

Five Common Myths about Working with Victims of Crime

There are several common myths or misconceptions that may impact your work with victims. Before we go further, let’s address some of these commonly cited areas.

MYTH: BY THE TIME I GET INVOLVED AS A PPO, IT IS TOO LATE TO HAVE AN EFFECT ON THE SHORT AND LONG TERM IMPACTS OF CRIME ON THE VICTIM.

TRUTH: The impacts of crime are pervasive and can have long-lasting effects. A victim may be re-traumatized throughout the pre-trial, trial, sentencing, incarceration, and reentry phases. It is never too late to do something helpful to mitigate the effects of victimization or prevent re-traumatization. You can minimize the adverse impacts of crime by providing a victim-centered approach to supervision. Many victims have never heard a professional say that what happened to them is wrong. You can acknowledge the harm that has been done to them and explain your responsibility for holding their perpetrator accountable. These critical conversations between PPOs and victims can go a long way in the healing process and provide meaningful interactions for both parties. Oftentimes it is not until they start to communicate with a PPO that a victim can finally get answers from someone dealing directly with the person that victimized them.

MYTH: CONFIDENTIALITY PROHIBITS PPOS FROM COMMUNICATING WITH VICTIMS.

TRUTH: Confidentiality is often a perceived barrier to collaborating with victims. However, this is a barrier that you can overcome by deepening your understanding of the law and of victims’ needs. Victims have a right to certain information. Anything that is public information can be shared with a victim, so it is critical that as a PPO, you know what is public information in your jurisdiction. While laws vary, generally victims can have access to information pertaining to location, supervision level and conditions, notice of revocations/violations, and scheduled court proceedings. Specific details of case plan or reentry plan and compliance can get more challenging. Victims’ questions should always be fielded and the reason they are asking for specific information clearly identified; however, information shared about a case plan may be protected under confidentiality. Know your jurisdiction’s laws and policies on dissemination of information. For instance, some information may be given verbally but not in writing; some information may be provided to criminal justice partners but not to the general public. Take time to acquaint yourself with your laws and policies so that you are better prepared to respond accurately to questions from victims and others. Ask victims about their underlying needs and help them to connect to supportive services to address their needs, if you cannot address them as a PPO.

MYTH: THERE IS A UNIVERSALLY ACCEPTED LIST OF VICTIMS’ RIGHTS ACROSS THE COUNTRY.

TRUTH: Each state and jurisdiction has their own set of laws pertaining to victims’ rights. Some jurisdictions have constitutional amendments, others have a bill of rights, and still others may have individual laws pertaining to the rights of victims. The online resource, VictimLaw, provides a database of all victims’ rights laws in all jurisdictions.

Note: This guide focuses on seven core victims’ rights that are common across various sources.

MYTH: IF MY STATE DOESN’T HAVE A VICTIMS’ CRIME BILL OR A VICTIM DOES NOT MEET THE CRITERIA FOR BEING DEFINED AS A VICTIM BY STATUTE, I AM NOT OBLIGATED TO WORK WITH THEM.

TRUTH: Some jurisdictions may not have as many rights in statute as others. Also, who is defined as a victim under statute varies across jurisdictions. While some laws may be jurisdictionally specific, in places where the law is unclear or does not exist, as a PPO you should access the VictimLaw database and refer to national promising practices. Appropriately responding to the needs of any victim who may contact you (regardless of whether they meet a statutory definition of a victim) is essential and can support positive outcomes for the victim and your supervision efforts.

MYTH: PPOS HAVE THE AUTHORITY AND RESPONSIBILITY TO ENSURE THAT ALL VICTIMS’ RIGHTS ARE ENFORCED.

TRUTH: PPOs have a great deal of influence within the community corrections continuum; however the responsibility to ensure enforcement of all rights extends beyond your authority. While we encourage you to always consider and advocate for victims’ rights, laws and courts often also have an impact on enforcement. For example, the right to a speedy trial is generally outside of your work as a PPO. This guide centers on the rights that are specific to the PPO role.