DENVER (CBS4) – As if COVID-19 hasn’t taken enough of a toll, it’s now impacting funding for victims of crime. Funding for victims’ services largely comes from fines imposed by courts and many courts have canceled jury trials.
Not only are there fewer fines, the fines courts are imposing aren’t as steep.
Steve Siegel with the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance says there’s been a shift in criminal justice away from placing a financial burden on offenders. He says the idea is, by reducing the financial burden on criminals, it increases their chances of rehabilitating. But crime victims, he says, are paying the price.
“Colorado victim advocates are facing drastic cuts in the coming year, unless we do something at the state and at the federal level,” said Siegel.
Colorado, Siegel says, saw a 58% cut in federal funding over the last couple years and could see an additional cut of up to 64% next year. State funding, he says, is down 20-50% depending on the jurisdiction. The fines help fund hundreds of victim services organizations that help everyone sexual assault and domestic violence survivors to human trafficking and vehicular homicide victims.
“To think that they might not be there for us … would be really devastating,” said Polli Small.
She and her husband Howard got a call two years ago that their son Ethan had been hit and killed by a repeat drunk driver.
“It’s a parent’s worst nightmare to get that phone call,” said Polli.
“One day he was here and the next day he was gone… we were lost beyond belief,” said Howard.
Like so many victims of crime, they were thrust into the legal system while overwhelmed by grief.
“We were desperate for help,” said Polli.
Victims’ advocates with the District Attorney’s Office and Mothers Against Drunk Driving Colorado (MADD) took them by the hand.
“They sat there in the courtroom and put their arms around us and held our hands and cried with us,” said Polli.
“Every single court case they were there. I don’t know that we would have gotten through this without that support,” said Howard.
That support is now in jeopardy. Victims’ service organizations are lobbying the state Legislature and Congress to come up with a more reliable source of funding.
Siegle said, if nothing changes, funding for victims’ services could dry up in the next couple years, “The game doesn’t have an end, that ends well.”