Funding cuts to AL victim notification system spark outrage
MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Advocate groups are lashing out at Alabama lawmakers over the move to defund a system designed to update crime victims. Now, they're asking Gov. Kay Ivey for help to keep the system up and running.
The General Fund budget sent by the legislature to Ivey strips all funding for the Victim Notification System. It's being developed to alert victims, law enforcement, and family members when violent offenders are considered for parole, transferred to work release or community corrections, or granted supervised release.
Darlene Hutchinson Biehl is a well-known crime victims' advocate and president of the River Region V.O.C.A.L. (Victims of Crime and Leniency) chapter. She feels that legislators have turned their backs on victims of violent crime in an "appalling" move that affects thousands of victims around the state.
"The victim notification system is going to help victims of all sorts, whether it's homicide, rape, assault, robbery, home invasion or any family or friends who want to keep up with whether an inmate has been released from prison or coming up for release," she explained.
Completing and expanding the Victim Notification System was a key component of the 2015 Prison Reform effort, and now two years later, the legislature has broken their promise to victims of violence," Biehl said.
"There were a number of line items that were supposed to be allocated and paid for over the next six years. One of them was help fund the victim notification system," she added. "It's less than one percent of the entire funding for prison reform from 2015. It was completely eliminated from the budget that the House approved two days ago and sent over to the governor's office."
The Alabama Crime Victims' Compensation Commission has been gauging the reaction to the decision from the victims' community on social media, and officials say those they've spoken to are scared and worried.
"This was such a triumph for the victims' movement to have this security," said Kim Martin, the commission's general counsel.
Martin says the commission is counting on a $100,000 appropriation to maintain the system and provide notifications to Alabama's victims of crime who register to receive notifications about the whereabouts of their criminal offenders.
"It needs yearly maintenance to keep it going and it will be an ongoing expense," Martin admitted, "but it was a very important piece of legislation that was passed a few years ago to provide some peace of mind to victims. It is our hope and our belief that the system gives victims a little piece of their sense of security back. They can make preparations that help them feel safer."
Crime victims' advocates like Biehl have been hammering lawmakers in the hopes something can be done.
"This was something that was promised to victims two years ago when they were wanting to release more inmates from prison to help us take the notification system to a new level," Biehl stated, "and two years later, the funding is already being eliminated. That's very unfortunate and we hope that they'll restore it in future budgets."
Biehl is hoping the governor can step in and restore the funding.
"We hope the governor will help us this year. It's $100,000 that's supposed to be matching funds for a federal grant that we are getting," Biehl stated. "We've been communicating with legislators for two months when we saw the cuts in the proposed budget from Gov. Bentley. We're in a bind right now."
"I hope that the governor will recognize how crucial this to the well-being of crime victims and will work with the task force to get the money restored to the general fund budget," Martin added. "Without this funding, I don't know how it could ever reach its full capability."
Officials say one in four Alabamians will become a crime victim in their lifetime.
The Alabama Crime Victims' Compensation Commission can provide up to $20,000 in financial assistance to eligible victims of violent crime. More information can be found at their website: acvcc.alabama.gov. You can also call 334-290-4420.
Copyright 2017 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.