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Compensation program is countys best
Although he freely admitted his statement may be a bit biased, Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth said the Crime Victims Compensation program was "the best program the county runs."
"It offers a lot of services to crime victims and, as you can imagine, a lot of crime victims are scared when they come into the system or are confused or angry. They're looking for information. They're looking for a resolution to their case," Forsyth said.
"So the people who work there have to be able to deal with people who have a broad spectrum of emotions, and they do a wonderful job of addressing all those kinds of concerns."
Even though the CVC program is a state program under the auspices of the Michigan Department of Community Health, it began at the county level. Kent County was among the first to offer it, back when David H. Sawyer was the prosecutor in the early 1980s.
"It was started before there was a Crime Victim Rights Act," said Forsyth of the law enacted in 1985. "But it has grown considerably since then, when we started out with one person."
Today, the office has a staff of 10 who assist victims with compensation applications; none of them are attorneys. In the last five years, they've assisted victims with almost 2,000 applications and helped collect nearly $2 million in compensation payments. They also coordinate court appearances, which saves the department money by not having to compensate victims who otherwise would be forced to wait to testify as witnesses. However, that isn't all the staff does on behalf of crime victims.
"They explain to them how the system is going to work. They will actually go to court with them, if need be. They do a lot of things behind the scenes you don't see. They do a wonderful job," said Fosyth, who served as chairman of the Crime Victim Services Commission under former Gov. John Engler for a time.
The office's CVC staff will be reduced to nine in the coming fiscal year. One member is retiring at the end of this year and there isn't enough money in the department's budget to hire a replacement.
The CVC program compensates a survivor of a victim who died as result of a crime for funeral and burial expenses, for loss of support for legal dependents, for grief counseling, and for the victim's hospital and medical bills that a survivor is legally responsible to pay. Persons who are injured as a direct result of a crime also are eligible, as are those who are injured in trying to stop a crime. State residents who are injured during a crime committed in another state that doesn't have a compensation program are eligible, too. So are Michigan residents who are injured outside of the country due to a terrorism act.
Injured victims can be compensated for hospital bills and medical expenses, loss of earnings, rehab and remedial services, and counseling.
A compensation payment is capped at $15,000, with $2,000 being the maximum funeral payment and $200 per week the maximum amount for lost earnings and support. The program will pay for 26 hours of grief counseling at up to $80 an hour for a licensed therapist or up to $95 an hour for a physician or a licensed psychologist. Property loss or damage is not covered under the program, nor are items such as pain and suffering, crime scene clean-up and relocation costs.
"This is different than restitution. If somebody steals my car or breaks into my house and steals a bunch of items from me, this doesn't pay for that. This won't pay for items that are insured, or it won't pay for medical bills that are insured. It covers things that are not insured," said Forsyth.
The prosecutor's office forwards major applications to Lansing, and the MDCH decides how much, if any, compensation will be paid. Applicants can appeal a MDCH decision to the Crime Victim Services Commission, which will hold a hearing on a disputed decision and make its own determination after that proceeding. "But the 'run of the mill' claim — if you want to call it that — is handled internally, and most are paid," said Forsyth.
Funding comes from a fee assessed to criminal defendants who are convicted. A convicted felon is charged $60, someone found guilty of a serious misdemeanor is charged $50, and a convicted juvenile is assessed $20. A juvenile has to be found guilty of a felony or a serious misdemeanor to be assessed. All the fees go into the CVC program at the state level and not to the county in which the conviction was reached. Forsyth said that has become a problem for the program over the last several years, as some of the funding hasn't gone toward compensating victims.
"It's kind of like Social Security. You're supposed to have this fund that is supposed to be dedicated for victims' rights. Well, the last couple of years, they've raided this fund to the tune of $8 million. While they've used it for arguably related functions, it still hasn't gone directly to victims like it was designed to do," he said.
Some of those dollars have reportedly gone to domestic violence programs and the sex offender registry. A portion also has traditionally gone to counties in the form of grants to help administer the CVC program. The amounts of the grants are based on a county's population and the number of staff in the local CVC office.
Kent County receives $142,000 a year, which Forsyth said covers about two staff members. The rest of the cost is picked up by county dollars; the program does not get federal funding.
Still, despite the funding irregularities, Forsyth feels the CVC program is the best one the county offers.
"I think it is. I mean, I'm pretty biased. I'm sure you can talk to the health department and they'll tell you that some of the programs they run are equally as important, if not more so. In some respects, they are," he said. "But just in terms of the quality, the service and what it is we provide, I think this is a wonderful program."
Almost $2 million for nearly 2,000
Almost $2 million for nearly 2,000
The Kent County Prosecutor’s Office has filed nearly 2,000 compensation applications on the behalf of local crime victims in the past five years. From 2005 through 2009, approved applications compensated victims for almost $2 million of losses. Here are the annual figures.
Source: Kent County Prosecutor’s Office, August 2010