PA District Attorneys’ Mission to Represent Crime Victims

June 2, 2009


National Crime Victims Rights Week is a time to commemorate the ongoing efforts that promote victim justice in Pennsylvania.

Whether in the courtroom arguing a case or weighing legislation being considered by the General Assembly, one role of district attorneys is to ensure that the victims of crime aren’t victimized again, especially by the criminal justice system.
It is through this prism that prosecutors all over Pennsylvania have pursed important initiatives and policies both locally and statewide.

PA SAVIN — Pennsylvania’s Automated Statewide Victim Information and Notification — is one way prosecutors have put words into action. This joint project between the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Institute and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency offers any crime victim or concerned citizen access to free and confidential notification regarding a county inmate’s release, transfer or escape.

The process is as simple as the concept, just log on to www.pacrimevictims.state.pa.us or call 1-866-9PA-SAVIN any time day or night.

Erie County was the first of 56 counties in Pennsylvania to implement PA SAVIN, and we have seen both registrations and notifications increase. Statewide, many victim service advocates are reporting that this confidential, Internet and phone-based service has helped open other doors of assistance.

For some victims of crime dealing with the crisis of their experience, PA SAVIN has become a nonthreatening, noncommittal information portal to other resources available to them, including individual counseling, crime victims’ compensation, court accompaniment and crisis intervention.

Acting on behalf of victims, district attorneys are protecting the truly innocent and there are no victims more innocent than children who have been abused and children who are witnesses to serious physical abuse and violent crimes. Throughout Pennsylvania, individual district attorneys are collaborating with Children’s Advocacy Centers in order to reach out and serve Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable victims — children.

In this line of work, there is nothing more heartbreaking or infuriating than seeing the effect of crime on children. For these children, their journey through the criminal-justice system can be just as traumatic as the crime itself as they are asked to share their story with police officers, counselors, health-care professionals, attorneys and eventually judges and juries.

Studies have found that child victims of crime have to tell their stories up to 12 different times. Each time, that child must relive that experience and, each time the story is told, the door is opened to inconsistencies that may eventually affect successful prosecution.

Child Advocacy Centers are a multidisciplinary collaborative effort to help make a young person’s journey through the criminal-justice system a little easier. In Erie County, our Child Advocacy Center is designed to provide an immediate and effective response anytime a child is harmed.

I am proud to be one of the founding members of Erie County’s Child Advocacy Center and continue to work with this important organization alongside Hamot Medical Center, the Office of Children and Youth, Dr. Justine Schober and the Crime Victim Center of Erie County. Together, we have been able to enhance child-abuse investigation and prosecution in Erie while easing a child’s burden through the criminal-justice system.

All across Pennsylvania, CACs are helping injured children recover, holding abusers accountable and improving safety for all children — and that’s a goal every prosecutor I know works toward.

Programs like PA SAVIN and Child Advocacy Centers demonstrate that when district attorneys act on behalf of the rights of victims, we promote justice. Ironically, the codification of victims’ rights in Pennsylvania is a relatively new concept.

But with the creation of Pennsylvania’s victim advocate in 1995 and the placement of victim/witness coordinators in many district attorneys’ offices, we are working more closely with victims than ever before.

Of course, the journey isn’t over, especially as we swim upstream against forces that want the public to believe that convicted killers sitting on death row are the “innocents” in the system.

The appeals process, DNA technology and the practical implementation of justice in courtrooms throughout our country prove otherwise. And yet groups like the Innocence Project and the Justice Project continue a drumbeat bent on eroding confidence in the criminal-justice system and seeking to drown out the voices of crime’s real victims.

Whether talking with legislators in Harrisburg, or working with victims in the course of our daily obligations to our offices, Pennsylvania prosecutors are committed to ensuring the victims of crime are never lost in the process or the larger debate.

So, as Pennsylvania joins together to observe National Crime Victims Rights Week this week, I remind all Pennsylvanians that prosecutors throughout the commonwealth are working every day to ensure that Pennsylvania never forgets the truly innocent in every criminal act — crime’s victims.

BRAD FOULK is the district attorney for Erie County and president of the Pennsylvania District Attorney Association.