The American Prosecutors Research Institute (APRI), with funding from the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, has explored the state of victim/witness assistance in rural prosecutors' offices, the challenges these offices face in trying to meet the needs of victims, and promising strategies for overcoming these challenges. This guide will provide prosecutors and prosecutor-based victim/witness advocates with practical and useful information to help them better serve rural crime victims.
Despite downward trends in violent and property crimes in the past several years, the number of rural Americans who are victimized by crime remains troubling. In rural communities in 2001, 21 of every 1,000 people ages 12 and older were victims of violent crimes. Cities with populations of less than 10,000 experienced a nearly 12-percent increase in homicides between 2000 and 2001, while cities with populations of 250,000 or more experienced a slight decline of 0.3 percent during the same period (Rennison 2002).
Compare the victimization statistics with staffing in rural prosecutors' offices and it is clear that the number of victims who need assistance or services far exceeds the staff available to these prosecutors. In 2001, prosecutors' offices in jurisdictions with populations of less than 250,000 employed on average three attorneys and one victim/witness advocate (DeFrances 2001). Jurisdictions with populations of less than 10,000, in contrast, often had a part-time prosecutor's office, with a median staff size of only twoan attorney and a support person. Thus, in a jurisdiction of 10,000 people, a prosecutor's office might see 210 victims of violent crime per year, yet have only limited staff available to protect these victims' rights, meet their needs, and prosecute their cases.