Chapter 2

Impact, Notification, and Informational Services


For many victims, the effects of crime are not short-term; the ramifications of the crime can be far-reaching, extending well beyond the trial phase of the crime. While many details of the offender's version of the crime are heard by judges, juries, and paroling authorities when making sentencing and release decisions, less attention is paid to the victim's perspective. By soliciting victim input and assessing victim impact, probation and parole agencies can "pick up the ball" and help ensure that victims' needs and concerns are heard and addressed. Victim input is essential to understanding the full magnitude of the criminal act and its detrimental effect on victims.

Recognizing that the criminal justice system can be confusing and frustrating to the professionals who work in it, it is no surprise that it often is viewed as an enigma to the millions of crime victims who try to find their way through its intrinsic maze each year. For many victims, information about the status of their case and the disposition of the offender(s) within the criminal justice system goes beyond their obvious interest in seeing that justice is served. The type of information victims receive can play a key role in their mental and emotional reconstruction, as well as assist them in their efforts to put their lives back together in the wake of victimization.

Issues related to the solicitation of victim input and impact information will be examined in this chapter, and strategies that can be employed to keep victims involved and informed throughout the probation and parole process will be discussed. This chapter will inform readers about the following:

n The type of information that should be provided to victims related to victim impact statements.

n Different methods for delivering victim impact statements.

n The type of information victims want and need throughout the probation and parole process.

n Ways the notification process can be automated.

Victim Impact/Input

By obtaining information from victims about the financial, emotional, physical, and psychological effects of the crime, probation and parole professionals can help ensure victim input is accounted for during sentencing and prior to any hearings relevant to the offender's release or community supervision. In particular, this type of information can help determine the following:

n Victim-specific restitution.

n The length of sentence, probation, or parole for an offender.

n The need for any special release conditions (e.g., restraining orders) for an offender.

n The need for any victim/offender programs (e.g., mediation, conciliation, participation in treatment programs).

n Any recommendations to help protect the safety of the victim (National Center for Victims of Crime, 1992).

In addition, there is a continuing need for probation and parole professionals to recognize victims as "consumers" or "clients" of their services. By soliciting input from victims in the form of victim impact statements, the victim's role in the criminal justice system is validated, and in part, may aid some victims' ability to reconstruct their lives in the aftermath of crime (Alexander and Lord, 1994).

In fact, research suggests that when victims are given the opportunity to provide information about the effect of the crime, it can improve their overall opinion of the criminal justice system. For example, according to research conducted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in 1993, two-thirds of victims who were given the opportunity to present written victim impact statements reported that they were "satisfied" with the criminal justice system. In contrast, three-fourths of those not allowed to submit a victim impact statement reported being "dissatisfied" with the criminal justice system as a whole (Alexander and Lord, 1994).

Key Elements for Soliciting Victim Input/Impact

First and foremost, effective solicitation of victim input and impact information requires a coordinated and collaborative effort for sharing of information among all the key agencies on the criminal justice continuum (i.e., law enforcement, prosecution, courts, probation, corrections, parole and victim services organizations). Specific to probation and parole, characteristics and components of exemplary practices related to victim input and impact include the following:

n All victims (including children) should be offered the opportunity to submit or update victim impact information during the presentence investigation on the financial, physical, emotional, and psychological effects the crime had on them, their family members, or friends. This requires that probation and parole agencies make a sincere effort (due diligence) to locate victims.

n Different methods of delivering victim impact statements should be available to victims (e.g., written, audio, video, allocution, telephone, electronic). Probation and parole agencies should ensure that victim impact statement opportunities are culturally sensitive, age-specific, and accessible to non-English speaking victims.

n Victim impact information should be incorporated into the agency's management information system; however, measures should be taken to ensure confidentiality of victim contact information (i.e., address, phone number) throughout the probation and parole process.

n Training or information should be provided to judges, paroling authorities, commissioners, administrative hearing officers, victim service providers, and victims on what type of information is helpful to courts and parole boards and when it is needed; how victim impact information is used; and who has access to the information. Cross training between probation and parole and other criminal justice entities and victim service providers related to victim impact is also helpful.

A comprehensive guide on victim impact statements, entitled Impact Statements: A Victim's Right to Speak, A Nation's Responsibility to Listen, has been developed by Alexander and Lord (1994). Much of the information provided in this chapter on victim impact information is drawn from that report. Copies of the report can be obtained by contacting the Office for Victims of Crime Resource Center at 1-800-627-6872.

Extending the Opportunity and Coordinating Services

To consider victim impact information, it must be (1) gathered from victims and (2) made available to judges and paroling authorities during the decisionmaking process. Unfortunately, many times probation and parole officers often are too uncomfortable, ambivalent, or busy to collect adequate impact information from victims (Shapiro, 1988). To add insult to injury, even when victim impact information is collected, the information may not be made available to the appropriate entities in a timely manner for use during sentencing and release decisions.

To prevent this from occurring, probation and parole agencies should establish policies and procedures that clearly delineate the probation and/or parole agency's responsibility for the implementation, distribution, and collection of victim impact statements. In doing so, these policies and procedures should provide for interagency cooperation in coordinating victim impact services with all key criminal justice agencies (Alexander and Lord, 1994).

By enhancing interagency coordination and collaboration, probation and parole agencies can avoid unnecessary overlapping and duplication of roles, as well as help ensure continuity of services. For example, probation agencies need to develop a clearer understanding of the victim impact services being provided by the local prosecutor's office, and be knowledgeable about prosecution policies and procedures related to forwarding victim impact statements to the probation department for inclusion in the presentence report and the defendant's permanent case file. In addition, it is imperative that policies and procedures be established and that interagency agreements be developed that outline how victim impact information is to be shared as a case progresses through the probation and parole process. Interagency agreements also should clarify who is responsible for what activities related to victim impact.

When it comes to securing victim impact information from victims, probation and parole agencies should establish policies and procedures that require staff to exercise due diligence when obtaining information, even to the extent that contact is made with outside agencies in an attempt to locate the whereabouts of crime victims. Outside sources that could be used to determine victim contact information could include the following:

n Postal service.

n Driver's license bureau.

n Voter registration bureau.

n Social Security Administration.

n Utility companies (Alexander and Lord, 1994).

Policies and procedures also should be established that describe how crime victims will be notified and informed of their rights to submit or update victim impact statements. Victims can be informed by letter or through personal contact (Alexander and Lord, 1994). Figure 2-1 provides a list of the type of information that victims should be given, at a minimum, related to submitting victim impact statements.

Figure 2-1: Information to Provide to Victims Related to Victim Impact Statements

n The purpose and use of the victim impact statement in the criminal justice system, the victim's option for exercising or declining his or her right to submit or update a victim impact statement, and specific guidelines concerning confidentiality of victim impact statements.

n Eligibility requirements for submission of victim impact statements (i.e., victim only, family members, designated victim representative).

n How the victim impact statement should be submitted or options for submission (e.g., written, oral, audio, video, other electronic means).

n How the victim impact statement will be reviewed by the court (i.e., inclusion in the presentence investigative report or as an attachment to the presentence investigative report).

n The date and time of the sentencing or parole hearing, as well as the right to attend the proceeding, as well as informing the victim how the proceeding will be conducted (e.g., victim allowed to meet separately with the paroling authority, defendant will or will not be present).

n A specified time frame for returning the completed victim impact statement.

n Instructions for submitting the victim impact statement to the court (i.e., through the prosecutor, probation, or directly to the court).

n Information as to the victim's right to request no contact orders, to receive notification of early release and the conditions of release, probation revocation hearings, parole hearings, and instructions for requesting these rights.

n Information as to the victim's right to submit evidence of additional financial losses for consideration in the modification of existing restitution orders.

n Information for requesting assistance in completing the victim impact statement (i.e., name and phone number of agency contact).

n The importance of notifying probation, correctional, and paroling authorities of changes in address and instructions for doing so.

Source: Alexander and Lord, 1994.

In addition to the mechanics of how to file a victim impact statement, the criminal justice system should provide outreach for the victim. The probation and parole agencies should ensure access to an advocate to help victims complete or update victim impact statements and assist with other victim-related issues or needs. If the victim is a child, ill, elderly, or with disabilities and, therefore, possibly would be excluded from presenting victim impact statements, the department should visit the victim. If the victim is non-English speaking or hearing impaired or does not write or read well, assistance should be provided either by allowing the victim to designate a representative to act in his or her behalf or by providing the information in their required format (i.e., their native language, interpreter, etc.). The victim should also have the opportunity to meet with parole board members. A separate waiting room for victims which is staffed with personnel knowledgeable about victims' rights in the criminal justice and paroling process allows the victims to communicate their concerns and feel a vital part of the process.

Methods of Delivery

To address the varying and special needs of crime victims, probation and parole agencies should allow victim impact information to be collected through a variety of means. Methods of delivery could include written, audio, video, allocution, telephone, and other electronic means.

Written Statements

The most common way victims provide information on the impact of crime is through written victim impact statements. However, according to Robert Wells, Senior Instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and a leading expert in the field of victim impact, many of the instruments used to capture victim impact information are not effective in eliciting victim participation and response (Alexander and Lord, 1994).

To help criminal justice professionals develop effective tools for soliciting impact information, the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC), Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), and American Prosecutor's Research Institute (APRI) joined forces to analyze existing victim impact statements and to determine the design, language, layout, and supporting materials that could be used to extract victim impact evidence while meeting the needs of victims and the criminal justice system. Their effort resulted in the publication Impact Statements: A Victim's Right to Speak, A Nation's Responsibility to Listen, authored by Alexander and Lord (1994). This document describes four model victim impact statements designed to meet the needs of (1) adult victims whose cases are being handled at the State and local levels; (2) adult victims whose cases are being handled at the Federal level; (3) child victims whose cases are being handled at the Federal, State, and local levels; and (4) family members of homicide victims. The following are common elements included within each model:

n An Introductory or Informational Sheet: Victims need to be given general information about the use of victim impact statements, their right to submit a statement (which can be easily modified based on jurisdictional statutes), how to complete and return the statement, crime victim compensation, and how to contact the agency for further assistance.

n An Instrument to Record the Emotional and Physical Impact of Crime: Based on written cues or questions, ample space should be provided for the victim to write about the emotional and physical impact of the crime and to convey emotional wounds, concerns, and fears to the sentencing and paroling authorities.

n A Worksheet to Record Financial Losses: Victims should be offered the opportunity to document all financial losses based on current expenditures, as well as possible projected future losses, so that additional restitution hearings can be held to modify restitution orders, if necessary.

n A Sentencing Recommendation Instrument: Victims should be able to express their opinion as to the sentencing of the defendant. Additional requests from the victim such as no contact orders and future notification of offender status, and the opportunity to participate in victim-offender mediation also can be included in this section. Additionally, information should be included on how victims can receive notification from the State Department of Corrections in cases involving incarceration.

The sample model victim impact statement forms developed for that report have been reproduced with permission and are included in Appendix B. Each is designed to be easily modified according to the specific laws for submission and use in individual jurisdictions. In addition, each model can be easily adapted to meet victims' physical and emotional needs, and distinct category of victimization (e.g., sexual assault, burglary, white collar crime, assault). Sample modifications that agencies can make include the following: n Increasing the font size of the model to accommodate vision challenges of the elderly or sight-impaired.

n Reproducing the models in languages indigenous to individual jurisdictions (e.g., Spanish, Vietnamese, Tagalese, Japanese, Chinese).

n Reproducing and presenting the child's model as a parent/child activity.

n Tailoring individual questions to meet the needs of specific crime victimizations (e.g., an individualized victim impact statement for family members of homicide victims) (Alexander and Lord, 1994).

Additional considerations to keep in mind when designing forms for written victim impact statements, as described by Alexander and Lord (1994), are as follows: n Form Design: Victim impact statement forms should be easy to read and understand. They should use clear, concise language in both their instructions and questions. The layout and graphic appearance should be pleasing to the eye, and there should be sufficient space for victims' responses. Additionally, the forms should demonstrate appropriate sensitivity
to victims by showing support and sympathy, and by avoiding impersonal or "bureaucratic" language.

n Introduction to the Victim Impact Statement: The victim impact statement form should be introduced to the victim in a manner that makes clear what its purposes are and how it will be used. Information should be provided as to why the victim would want to complete it and indicate that he or she has a choice to submit or not submit a statement for review.

n Instructions for Completion and Submission: A victim impact statement form should include instructions that provide useful information on: (1) how to complete the statement; (2) the type of information that is useful to sentencing and paroling authorities; and (3) how and to whom the form should be submitted once it has been completed. These instructions may appear on the form itself or in an introductory letter. A contact name and phone number to call for assistance in completing the statement also should be provided. Self-addressed envelopes also are helpful.

n Confidentiality of the Statement: The victim impact statement form should make clear who will have access to the statement, specifically mentioning the judge, prosecutor, defendant, defendant's attorney, and anybody else that will have access to the statement. Victims must be assured of their safety from the defendant and defendant's family and should not be compelled to reveal any unnecessary identifying information such as their address or phone number, or they should be able to have this information protected from offenders and their counsel.

n Order of Impact Questions: Victim impact statements should seek information from the victim on a number of aspects of his or her life: emotional state, social and family relationships, concerns for safety and security, physical condition, and financial status and costs associated with the crime. The statement should not ask narrowly focused, specific questions regarding the impact of crime. Instead it should ask open-ended questions that allow victims to write about these issues. This allows victims to identify what is important.

n Emotional Impact: The order in which the "impact" questions are asked is important to victims. The victim impact statement form should first ask for the emotional impact on the victim before eliciting information on the physical or financial impact. Some victims find it insulting that the court or paroling authority would primarily focus on the financial impact, as opposed to the emotional impact of the crime. Surviving victims should be afforded ample space to express how the crime has personally affected them in homicide cases. Family members or friends of homicide victims should be given ample space to describe the deceased's personal characteristics and how his/her loss has affected their lives.

n Physical Impact: The victim impact statement form should seek information about the physical injuries the victim may have suffered as a result of the crime. Victims should have space to describe the type and degree of injury, how long the injury lasted or is expected to last, the amount of pain and/or modifications to their lifestyle that have resulted from the crime, and any medical treatment required to date, as well as any that might be anticipated.

n Financial Impact: When seeking financial impact from victims, the victim impact statement form should seek detailed information about the cost of the crime. Victims should be given the opportunity to list medical costs (e.g., hospitals, doctors, and drugs), counseling costs, lost income from work, or expenses incurred in tasks performed by the victim, (e.g., replacing stolen, damaged or lost property), diminished or lost ability to earn a living, lost support for dependent if the victim died, funeral bills, and any other costs related to the crime. Victims also should be asked to provide information on the portion of the costs covered by insurance, crime victim compensation, or any other source. The victim impact statement form should clearly and readily allow for a calculation of the amount of monetary restitution owed to the victim.

n Notification of Offender's Post-Conviction Status: In jurisdictions that allow the victim to be notified of the offender's post-conviction status, the victim impact statement form should ask the victim to what extent he or she wishes to be notified of these developments. The statement should not assume that all victims will want to be involved or notified. For victims who wish to be notified, their requests should be forwarded to the appropriate agency.

n Victim's Opinion on Sentence: In some jurisdictions, the victim is allowed to provide a perspective or opinion on the sentence the defendant should receive. If allowed, the victim impact statement should provide ample space for the victim to inform the sentencing authority of his/her wishes in the sentencing of the defendant.

n Signature/Oath of Victim: In general, a model victim impact statement form should burden the victim with as few requirements as possible regarding swearing accuracy of the statement and notarizing the victim's signature. While such formalities may be requirements in some jurisdictions, those which have no such requirements should not compel the victim to seek a notary, and victims should not be compelled to swear to the emotional impact of the crime.

Oral, Audio, Video Statements

For victims who may be unable to read or write, it may be necessary for probation and parole officers to interview the victim over the telephone or in-person, or arrange for the victim to provide an oral statement to the sentencing or paroling authorities (i.e., allocution). When preparing a victim impact statement over the telephone or through a face-to-face interview, probation and parole officers should be sure that the information provided by the victim is recorded carefully. Audio taped and videotaped victim impact statements also can be useful in situations where victims are unable to read or write, or are unable to attend sentencing or parole hearings.

If a victim decides to provide an oral statement to the sentencing or paroling authority, they should be provided with information about what to expect during the proceedings and, if needed, provided with support services. When victims choose to attend parole hearings in South Carolina, the Office of Victims Services of the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Service (SCDPPPS) provides them, in writing, the following type of information and guidelines:

n Who can attend the hearing.

n Maximum number of attendees per offense.

n Time, date, and location of the hearing.

n Directions to the specific hearing room.

n Where to park (victims should have
a separate parking area from the individuals who are attending in support of the inmate).

n Agenda that specifies the order of testimony.

n Recommendations about how to testify effectively.

n What to wear.

n What they can and cannot bring.

n The name, address, and telephone number of the victim service contact person for the agency.

A sample information sheet sent to victims attending parole hearings in South Carolina is included in Appendix B.

Also, in South Carolina, when victims choose to attend a parole hearing, there is a special waiting area for them which is separate from the waiting room for the inmate and the inmate's family. The victim waiting area is staffed by victim-sensitive personnel (using volunteers, as needed) and contains the following types of provisions:

n Information relevant to the parole process and victims' rights.

n Beverages and snacks.

n Newspapers and magazines.

n Toys.

n Restroom facilities.

n Telephone.

n Television and VCR.

n A nonsmoking area.

n A private area.

Victims are greeted in the waiting area by Office of Victim Services staff who explain the hearing process and answer any questions the victims may have. When a victim's case is called, the inmate and his or her family members and attorney address the Parole Board as to why the inmate is a good candidate for parole. After the inmate and his or her supporters have left the room, the victim presents testimony to the Parole Board. A Victim Services Coordinator accompanies the victim to the hearing to provide emotional support as well as to answer any of the victim's questions that may arise during the hearing. The Office for Victim Services also offers these support services for victims attending probation violation hearings.

Currently, SCDPPPS is in the process of trying a new way of conducting parole hearings - via video-conferencing. This allows the Parole Board to meet at the Administrative Office building rather than at the institution. Victims still appear "face-to-face" before the Parole Board members, while inmates, due to security concerns, appear before the Board via video-conferencing from the local institutions. Inmates' families are required to go to the institution where the inmate is located if they wish to address the Parole Board. This type of arrangement prevents the victim from coming in contact with the inmate or the inmate's family, and is a cost effective approach for the agency as well.

Incorporating Victim Information into Agency's Management Information

An increasing trend within probation and parole departments is to incorporate vital victim information into their offender management information systems. Instead of having multiple and separate databases that relate to an offender's case and, hence, to the victim's case, many jurisdictions are beginning to centralize their databases and tie victim information to the offender information. It is important to note, however, that substantial security provisions must be in place to protect confidential victim information (Sigmon and Seymour, 1996). Automated systems used within probation and parole departments, with respect to victim notification, are discussed in more detail later in this chapter.

Victim confidentiality is a priority for service providers, and much victim information related to the criminal justice system is confidential by law or by agency policy. Therefore, when developing new technologies that benefit crime victims, it is important for agencies to give careful consideration to the security of specific information. Technology in today's market easily can accommodate the security of any information deemed confidential by the courts, including victim information. For example, when developing software packages, access to computer screens with confidential information can be limited to authorized users with passwords. Unauthorized access to documents also can be prevented through the use of encryption or "scrambling" of documents that are electronically transferred (Sigmon and Seymour, 1996).

Providing Training on Victim Impact Statements

Alexander and Lord (1994) recommend that all criminal justice professionals (i.e., law enforcement, prosecutors, victim advocates, judges, probation officers, paroling authorities) who influence the victim impact procedure have a thorough understanding of their State statutes and case law regarding the submission and use of victim impact statements. This includes the following guidelines:

n The types of crimes for which impact statements are allowed.

n The definition of "victim."

n Whether the submission of victim impact information or statements is mandatory or discretionary at the time of sentencing.

n Whether the submission of victim impact information is mandatory or discretionary at the time of parole consideration.

n Confidentiality limits.

n Rights of enforcement (probably limited to States with State Constitutional Amendments for victims' rights).

n Submission deadlines.

n Perjury penalties.

n Collectability of restitution.

n Liability issues.

n Other elements or limitations.

To effectively and compassionately address the needs and rights of crime victims and provide them with adequate services, community corrections professionals must have a clear perception of the effect of crime on its victims. Therefore, probation and paroling authorities should establish policies and procedures that require all employees who have direct contact with crime victims to participate in State or local victim assistance training programs that address the needs, rights, and legal interests of crime victims (Alexander and Lord, 1994). Staff training is discussed in more detail in Chapter 7. It is important to note for the purposes of this chapter, however, that staff who are responsible for obtaining victim impact information especially need to understand and be sensitive to the needs and concerns of crime victims, and be able to communicate effectively with their victim clients.

In the 1980's, the Attorney General's Office in Illinois prepared interviewing guidelines for probation officers to follow when conducting in-person and telephone interviews for the purpose of soliciting victim impact. The Dewitt County (Illinois) Probation and Court Services provides these guidelines to all its probation officers. The guidelines serve as a reminder to officers of the issues individuals may be facing as a result of being a victim of crime and provide helpful suggestions to prepare the officer for interviewing crime victims. The guidelines cover items such as appropriate settings for interviews, strategies for communicating with victims (e.g., conveying empathy, respecting different stages of the recovery process of victimization, paraphrasing, being adequately prepared), referral services for victims, and appropriate response to the special needs of different types of victimizations (e.g., families of homicide victims, sexual assault victims, child victims, incapacitated victims).

Victim Notification and Informational Services

Notification and informational needs of victims extend beyond informing victims of their right to submit or update a victim impact statement. Probation and parole officers have access to both general and offender-specific information that could address victims' myriad informational needs and concerns. Just knowing how probation and parole work and how they interact with other criminal justice agencies, knowing an offender's custody status, and knowing that offenders will be held accountable for their actions often are enough to ease the fears and frustrations of victims.

Key Elements for Victim Notification and Informational Services

When developing victim notification and informational services in probation and parole agencies, the following key components should be considered:

n All victims should receive initial information about the probation and parole process and be offered the opportunity to receive future notification of the offenders' status and disposition.

n Agencies should incorporate various forms of notification, such as written, telephone, automated voice response, and in-person.

n Agencies should be proactive in providing both general and offender-specific information to victims of crime.

n To simplify the notification process, agencies should design the department's management information system (with appropriate confidentiality protections) to assist in processing victim notification requests.

n Information about how the notification process works within probation and parole agencies should be given to all local and State victim service providers.

Many victims do not want continued contact and information from the justice system. It is important to respect the wishes of these people.

Extending the Opportunity

After the offender is sentenced to supervision or incarceration, the victim should be identified, notified, and asked to register for future notification of the offender's status. Some systems limit their notification process to victims of violent crimes, while others reach out to notify all victims regardless of the offense against them. Agencies should have several methods for victims to register for notification, such as by telephone or an automated calling service, in-person, office visits, and in writing (e.g., through victim impact statements, presentence reports, registration form/cards).

In South Carolina, all victims, regardless of the severity of the offense, are given the opportunity to enroll in the notification program during community supervision and the parole hearing process. The Victim Services Office of the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services sends a brochure to victims that has a detachable registration/notification request card that they may complete and return to the department. When designing request cards, it is important to develop a method for keeping the victim's name and address confidential. A sample registration/notification request card is included in Appendix B.

In both Washington, D.C. and Georgia, the Parole Board has created outreach posters that describe victims' rights and available services. In Georgia, the reverse side of the poster can be used by victims to register for notification.

In Arizona, identification of the victim or victim representative is simplified by using a single form that identifies the victim and indicates their request for pre-conviction and post-conviction notification. This pressure sensitive triplicate form is completed by either victim/witness staff in the prosecutor's office or by the presentence investigation officer in the probation department. Copies are then forwarded to the victim, victim advocate, arresting law enforcement agency, prosecutor, court, probation and parole, and/or correctional facility. The form follows the offender throughout the criminal justice process and serves as the basis for victim identification and notification.

Information to Provide to Victims

Probation and parole agencies can provide victims with general information about how the probation and parole process works and the types of services available for victims of crime in the community. They also can provide victims with offender-specific information about the status of their case and the disposition of the offender(s) within the criminal justice system. Specifically, victims need information about the following:

n Their rights.

n The probation and parole process.

n Who the victim can contact at the probation and parole agency for more information.

n Submitting victim impact statements.

n Services provided to victims by the agency (e.g., New York's Ulster County Probation Department has formed support groups for children of domestic violence).

n Notice of the sentence and conditions of probation/parole of the offender.

n Offender status (e.g. violations, imposition of intermediate sanctions, revocations, restitution, early terminations).

n Amount of restitution ordered and payment schedule.

n Names and phone numbers of local, State, and national victim service providers.

Methods of Providing Notification and Informational Services

There are numerous ways that victims can be provided with information about the probation and parole process and be kept informed of an offender's status. It is incumbent upon probation and parole agencies to be proactive and creative when developing methods for providing information and assisting victims who wish to receive notification of case status. Written materials, creation of toll-free telephone numbers, implementation of automated notification systems, and creative, yet careful, use of new technologies (e.g., Internet) are all methods that can be employed at varying degrees within departments to achieve these goals.

Written Materials

At the beginning of their involvement in the probation or parole process, victims should be provided information in writing that explains their rights and how to keep involved and informed. (See Appendix B for a sample victim-sensitive notification letter.) It is especially important to remember to make written material easy to read (generally at a seventh grade reading level) and "victim-friendly." This includes preparing written materials in lay terms (e.g., avoiding criminal justice jargon and acronyms) and having information available in different languages for non-English speaking victims. In California, the California Youth Authority (CYA) has a sentence in Spanish at the bottom of all its forms that informs victims that information can be sent to them in Spanish if needed.

Tarrant County Community Supervision and Corrections Department, Texas

The Tarrant County Community Supervision and Corrections Department's (CSCD) victim notification procedures, in accordance with Texas law, are accomplished through the Victim Services Coordinator's Office with the cooperation of CSCD's Courts Branch.

Victims receive initial notification that an offender has been placed on probation in the form of a letter, along with a copy of the offender's conditions of probation. The injured party then knows exactly what the court expects of the offender during the term of probation. If monetary restitution has been ordered by the court, information specific to the collection and disbursement of those monies is sent along with a copy of the restitution order. In addition, victims receive CSCD's Crime Victims Handbook. This 34-page Handbook includes the following information:

n Important phone numbers for crime victims.

n General information on probation services.

n Explanations of standard and supplemental conditions of probation.

n Information on how restitution orders are handled by the department.

n Information on victim services provided by the probation department.

n Information for contacting the probation department.

n Sample conditions of probation forms.

n A copy of the Texas Crime Victims' Bill of Rights.

The Handbook is easy to read and written in terms that can be understood by persons not familiar with the criminal justice system. Victims can refer to the Handbook for information throughout the time their offender is on probation, thus reducing the amount of time required by the victim services staff of the department to answer general questions.

The format used for Tarrant County's Handbook is available both in diskette and photocopied format through the American Probation and Parole Association. Agencies can follow the format provided and easily adapt the general information to fit their jurisdiction's specific practices.

Toll-Free Numbers

Toll-free numbers that victims can call are also helpful tools for providing and responding to requests for information. The South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services (SCDPPPS) recently established a toll-free number for its Office For Victims Services that victims can call for information about an inmate's parole eligibility or the parole hearing process, as well as to obtain information about offenders who are currently on probation or parole.

Automating the Notification Process

Many States have opted for automated victim registration and notification systems that can save considerable time, money, and human resources. These automated systems help ensure that victims are notified of an offender's release or impending parole hearing in a timely manner that is in accordance with the law. Automated systems work by linking a central server computer, via telephone lines, to existing systems in jails, courthouses, prosecutor's offices, probation and parole offices, and prisons.

According to Sigmon and Seymour (1996, p. 20-27), the process of automated victim notification generally includes the following:

n Victims who request to be notified of an offender's release (either through a prosecutor, victim service provider, Department of Corrections, or paroling authority) have their name, address,
and telephone number entered into a centralized database.

n The victim contact information is on a security screen, which means that only authorized personnel (such as the victim services program manager, or case records personnel at institutions) have access to it.

n Computerized notification letters designed to provide details on the offender's status, including release, upcoming release hearing, or death, are keyed into the system and matched to
the relevant victim information file.

n At the appropriate juncture mandated by law (such as 60 days prior to release), the letter is automatically printed out by the computer and disseminated by the victim services program (in centralized systems) or case records personnel (in decentralized systems).

Virginia Department of Corrections

The Virginia Parole Board began implementing its victim notification program in July 1989. At that time, the notification consisted of parole status information only and was a manual process that consisted of a large red card (containing victim contact information) placed in an offender's central office file with instructions to forward the file to the Victim Services Unit when it became an active Parole Board case. Although the system basically worked, at times, it fell prey to human error causing some cases to "fall through the cracks."

In 1992, the Parole Board decided to move toward a totally automated case information and processing system. The Victim Services Unit, which is now a part of the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) uses a Windows-based relational database management system. The system they have set up allows the victim database to be linked with the offender database, so when changes in the offender's status occur, the system automatically identifies changes in status without relying on a manual process that is subject to human error. This automated system also allows for quarterly notification of the offender's current parole eligibility, as well as a current mandatory release date.

In terms of extracting statistical and managerial information from the victim notification database and the offender database, the following specific questions can be queried:

n Which area of the State has the most or least victim notification participation?

n Which offenders will be released on mandatory parole over the next 6 months who have victims who want to be notified?

n How many offenders have multiple crime victims?

n What type of crime is most likely to generate an interest in victim notification?

Any number of specific questions can be asked and answered for statistical or notification purposes. For example, when Virginia transferred several hundred inmates to Texas in response to overcrowding, the Victim Services Unit was able to query the database and determine exactly who the offenders were, the crime they had committed, and the victims' names and addresses for appropriate notification.

The innovative characteristic of this program is its use of existing technology in automation. Its exemplary qualities are the system's ability to provide accurate and timely notification to a large number of victims with limited staffing.

Startup costs were minimal as the Parole Board had committed itself to full automation of the parole process. Currently, there are two staff persons in the Victim Services unit, each using a networked 486 personal computer, Microsoft Access™ software, and a laserjet printer. The combined hardware costs for the two PC's and software licenses were obtained for less than $5,000. Staff of the Information Management Systems Unit at the Parole Board did the necessary alterations and programming to allow for the conversion of the database from the original automated system and to allow for specific features that were needed in the new system.

Although not all offender status changes for victim notification are automated, the VA DOC is committed to the computerized system and is hopeful that in the near future all functions will be online.

Kentucky Department of Corrections

The Kentucky Department of Corrections and the Kentucky Parole Board have implemented a promising notification system which links the 15 State prisons with crime victims, who wish to be notified of their offender's status, throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The program is modeled after a successful Jefferson County, Kentucky program that originated in December 1994 as a response to a tragic murder. Mary Frances Byron of Jeffersontown, Kentucky was shot and killed by her former boyfriend as she left work less than 3 weeks after he was charged with kidnapping and raping her at gun point. He had been released from jail on bond, and she had not been notified of the release despite assurances that she would be. He was later convicted of murdering her. In response to the public outcry following this tragic crime, Kentucky implemented its automated system in Jefferson County to notify victims when offenders are released from the county jail. (See Appendix B.)

Adapted for use by the Kentucky Department of Corrections and the Kentucky Parole Board, critical information regarding inmates can now be accessed by victims through the automated system, automatically 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with complete anonymity. Recently, the KY DOC has been directed by statute to link all 84 jails throughout the Commonwealth to the system. There also are plans to link the KY Juvenile Justice Department to the system so that victims of juvenile offenders can register for notification as well.

The following immediate information is available through the automated system:

n Custody status of the inmate: Information is provided on whether the inmate is incarcerated, has been transferred, has been released, or has escaped.

n Location of the inmate: The current institutional address and telephone number is given for inmates in departmental custody.

n Parole eligibility: The next parole hearing date is given.

n Sentence expiration: The tentative release date is given.

Victims also can call the toll-free number (800-511-1670), using a touch-tone telephone, to register for notification. Through computer generated calls, all registered victims will be immediately contacted at a predetermined telephone number when an inmate is scheduled for release or if an inmate escapes from custody. The system continues to call the victim every hour for the first 8 hours, every 4 hours for the next 24 hours, and every 6 hours for the following 24 hours or until the requesting party accepts the release information. The system is designed to provide 72 hours advance notification. In cases of parole, changes in sentencing due to immediate time credits, court ordered discharges or escapes, the system will begin to call once the release occurs.

Each victim is allowed to register two telephone numbers. To ensure that the victim receives the release information, the system asks the victim to leave a four digit personal identification number (PIN). Victims are encouraged to choose a PIN that is easy for them to remember since it may be several years before the inmate is released. Use of the PIN is the only way to halt the notification calls. Victims who move or change telephone numbers must ensure that this information gets entered into the automated system. Otherwise, it can create a situation where the system calls an incorrect number and the person or agency on the receiving end of the call is unable to stop the calls because they do not have the victim's personal identification number. Also, without the proper telephone number being supplied or updated by the victim, he or she may not receive the notification that they originally requested.

If a victim does not have a touch-tone telephone, the victim may still register for notification by calling the toll-free number and staying on the line and speaking with an operator or by calling the Offender Records Office. Registered victims with rotary dial telephones are able to receive notification through the automated system and are provided with instructions on how to use their PIN to confirm receipt of the notification announcement. Individuals without telephones may request written notification of an inmate's release.

Tennessee Department of Correction

Recently, in Tennessee, the Department of Correction implemented an automated calling system - V.O.I.C.E. (Victims Offender Information Caller Emissary). Through the use of a touch tone phone, registered victims can call V.O.I.C.E. and access immediate and accurate information about parole hearings and eligibility dates, scheduled and early release dates, and the location of the offender. Currently, the system cannot make outgoing calls to victims; however, the department forecasts that soon the system will be able to call registered victims and notify them of escapes, prison location changes, sentence or parole eligibility date changes, or the status of the offender.

Concerns to Address with Automated Callback Systems

Automated callback systems offer jurisdictions who choose to use them a host of benefits - most importantly timely and efficient notification of victims of crime. However, as with any automated system, there are some drawbacks and concerns to consider and address. Concerns espoused by some victim advocates relate to the possible errors that can occur by persons responsible for entering the data (e.g., transposing numbers in the telephone number) and to situations where telephone lines may be down for a period of time due to inclement weather or in instances where victims do not have phones.

Additionally, limitations to automated callback systems noted by some victim advocates include the lack of personal contact involved in a call placed by an automated system. Upon receiving the news that an inmate is about to be released or has escaped custody can instill concern in some victims and generate many questions. Therefore, departments should ensure that the system provides the victim with information on who they can contact for additional information (e.g., probation and parole department's victim services office, local victim/witness advocate). Optimally, departments with automated notification systems should consider augmenting the system with a 24-hour toll-free telephone number that victims can call to talk to someone who can provide crisis counseling and provide referrals, as well as answer questions they may have about the individual's release.

Using the Internet to Provide Information and Notification

The Internet is a powerful tool for disseminating information. Currently, its use by probation and parole agencies to provide information to victims of crime is rather limited. However, as more people gain access to the system and it becomes a more routine informational tool in people's everyday lives, it is likely that different and innovative ways of using the Internet to provide information, solicit victim input, and keep victims informed will be developed. Although, as with any technology, agencies will have to be careful in protecting confidentiality of victim information.

At the very least, probation and parole agencies can use the Internet to provide general information about their services available to crime victims. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction are examples of two agencies that have put information about their victim services on their Web sites. (Further information about the Web sites the Ohio Department has designed is provided in Chapter 8.)

Victims who have access to the World Wide Web can go to an agency's home page and read about the services available to them. Probation and parole agencies also should be aware of other Web sites (i.e., local, State, and national victim service organizations) that victims can access to get information on victim services or issues and, if possible, arrange for automatic links from their Web site to other sites. Information on how to access the National Criminal Justice Reference Services (NCJRS) and the Office for Victims of Crime Resource Center (OVCRC) online and other victim-related Internet sites is included in Appendix G.

The New Jersey Parole Board is an example of one agency that is using the Internet to help meet some of its notification mandates. Pursuant to the provisions of N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.45 et seq., the New Jersey State Parole Board is required to give public notice when adult inmates are to be considered for parole. To help provide this notice, they have created a Parole Eligibility Notice section on their Web site ( that lists release dates of adult inmates by county.

Educating Local and State Victim Service Providers

Information about how the notification process works within probation and parole agencies should be given to all local and State victim service providers. Information can be provided in the form of written materials that victim service providers can distribute to their clients, as well as use for their own internal reference. Networking events, training seminars, and presentations also are effective ways to educate victim service providers about the notification process, as well as other services provided to victims within the department. The key is for probation and parole agencies to be proactive about communicating with victim service organizations and to seek these agencies out. Additional information about community relations and outreach strategies may be found in Chapter 8.


This chapter provided an overview of issues related to providing victim impact, notification, and informational services. All probation and parole agencies should solicit victim input and keep victims informed of case status as essential components of their work in order for victims to resolve their anxiety and also for the probation and parole agencies to fully understand the impact of the crime. Only by opening lines of communication and educating victims and the public on what they do, will probation and parole actually better serve crime victims as well as the community-at-large and elevate crime victims to client status.