TDCJ Victim Services Division provides mechanism for participation in criminal justice system
By Patsy Day
This year’s theme for National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (April 10-16) is “Justice Isn’t Served Until Crime Victims Are.” To commemorate, this Board Bulletin provides an overview of the services offered by TDCJ Victim Services Division and its vital roll to the agency and the community.
As its mission statement indicates, the TDCJ Victim Services Division provides a central mechanism for victims to participate in the criminal justice system. Through its programs, which are described below, direct, personal service is provided to victims and their families throughout the state.
The Texas Crime Victim Clearinghouse (TxCVC) serves as a key source of information about services and issues involving crime victims in Texas. Through its toll-free number and published directories, the TxCVC connects victims and their families with valuable community and state resources. It provides technical assistance to victim service providers and conducts annual training for victims, as well as professionals in the victim assistance and criminal justice fields. The TxCVC is also responsible for processing, reviewing, and updating the Victim Impact Statement. This statement, completed and submitted by victims, provides necessary victim information to prosecuting attorneys, courts, probation departments and criminal justice agencies.
To help keep victims and their families informed of an offender’s status after conviction and sentencing to TDCJ, Victim Services established a Victim Notification System. This system provides written notification to individuals registered on its confidential data base and allows for 24-hour electronic access to information through an Automated Victim Notification System. With the automated system, not only can information be retrieved, but notifications can be sent to a victim notifying them when an offender is being processed for release.
In support of the belief that understanding the impact of crime can spark remorse and in turn diminish an offender’s chance to recidivate, three individual programs are available through TDCJ Victim Services. All three of these programs help the offenders grasp the damage done by crime while offering victims the opportunity to heal. The Victim Offender Mediation/Dialogue Program allows victims of violent crimes the opportunity to hold a structured face-to-face meeting with their offender. The Victim Impact Panel Program allows victims to speak openly about their victimization to criminal justice professionals, as well as incarcerated and released offenders. There is also Bridges to Life, which is a faith-based victim/offender encounter program. Through Bridges for Life, volunteer victims visit units on a weekly basis for 12 consecutive weeks to discuss a wide array of topics, to include crime, responsibility, confession, forgiveness, reconciliation and restitution.
When assessing the type of services provided for victims, input is received from victim advocacy groups, state agencies, and local victim service providers through the TDCJ Victim Advisory Council. The council, consisting of approximately 30 representatives, meets quarterly to assess victim needs that are not being addressed. This information is then relayed back to the represented organizations in an effort to develop services or programs to cover those needs.
Education and training, essential to reducing victimization, are provided by Victim Services in various forms. As mentioned, the TxCVC conducts annual training, which brings hundreds of victims, criminal justice professionals, law enforcement and victim service providers together to participate in an array of victim-related workshops. A Memorial Library has also been established at Victim Services, with books and videotapes available to victims on a 30-day check-out basis. Through the Victim Services Training Program, workshops are conducted for other TDCJ divisions, as well as for outside organizations. Training touches on a wide assortment of topics to help staff and providers better serve victims. They include intervention strategies, crisis response, and one-on-one interaction. In addition, to help educate victims about the system, Victim Services helps coordinate prison tours. These specialized tours consist of visiting two prison units and the execution chamber.
In regards to executions, the Victim Services Division provides the avenue for victim witnesses of capital murder cases to view the execution of the offender. In addition, the Victim Witnesses Viewing Execution Program prepares the witnesses by supplying information regarding the execution process. Prior to and immediately following the execution, Victim Services also provides briefing times for the victims to prepare for the experience and then regroup and refocus on their healing process.
By providing direct, personal assistance and services to victims and their families, the TDCJ Victim Services Division ensures victims can be involved in all parts of the criminal justice system.
For more information or assistance from TDCJ Victim Services, contact 1-800-848-4284 or firstname.lastname@example.org