Budget Cuts Endanger Victims’ Rights and Services

February 24, 2012

HARRISBURG, PA – The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association today cautioned that unless $3.5 million in funding for Victims of Juvenile Offenders (VOJO) is restored to the state budget there will be a shortage of services for many victims of crime in Pennsylvania.

“The rights guaranteed to victims in the Crime Victims Bill of Rights are meaningless if there is no funding to protect those rights,” Schultz said. “Pennsylvania’s District Attorneys understand that in these difficult budgetary times, tough choices have to be made — but the tough choices have to be the right choices. We ask the General Assembly to protect our victims and restore this critical funding.”

State law mandates certain rights and responsibilities must be afforded to victims of crime and victims of juvenile crime. In order to fulfill this important mandate, VOJO funding covers employment costs for victim-witness coordinators that provide services for victims of juvenile crimes. With already strained county budgets, district attorneys are concerned that the elimination of VOJO funding will lead to lay-offs of victim-witness coordinators and an inability to provide adequate services to victims of crime.

“District Attorneys across this commonwealth firmly believe this decision will have a negative impact on services for crime victims,” Schultz said.

“Without victims’ advocates, many victims will feel lost navigating the system and will be less likely to seek the restitution and services they are entitled to,” Schultz explained. “Without these advocates the state cannot hope to fulfill its statutorily mandated obligation to victims of crime.”

The 2012-2013 proposed budget marks the second fiscal year in which VOJO funding was zeroed out of the proposed budget. In 2011-2012, a one-time infusion of $1.8 million partially funded the program through Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) funding and a legislative fiscal code transfer. It is highly unlikely that such a stop-gap measure would be available again in 2012-2013.

In 2010, problems exposed in the Luzerne County juvenile justice system and the “Kids for Cash” scandal lead the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice to recommend increasing VOJO funding.