Two bills that would provide financial compensation and aid to victims of crimes in the District drew mixed reactions from citizens and government officials at a City Council hearing last week.
Both bills would establish a Criminal Injuries Compensation Board (CICB) which would determine and administer claims for the compensation of crime victims.
Opposition was expressed by D.C. Auditor Matthew S. Watson, who said "it would be unwise to adopt such a bill this time." The city, he said, presently has "numerous boards and commissions which have been ineffective due to lack of adequate administrative resources. The proposed legislation would establish yet another operation, which is not likely to be fully supported when competing for budget funds with other programs."
Watson added that "the program will not be able to tap existing administrative resources which are already falling short in many areas."
Under a bill introduced by council members Arrington Dixon and Polly Shackleton, up to $50,000 would be paid to crime victims to cover loss of earnings, loss of future earnings, funeral and burial expenses or loss of support to the dependents of the victim. No limit would be placed on compensation for medical expenses.
A second bill, introduced by Council Member Willie J. Hardy, which would compensate victims up to $10,000, would establish, in addition to the CICB, a Victim Assistance Center (VAC) to assist victims by coordinating community resources including housing, food programs, employment rehabilitation, counseling and financial assistance.
Jayne Thomas Rich, representing the National Organization of Victim Assistance (NOVA), said that "NOVA is, of course, in favor of legislation to provide compensation for victims of crime . . ." But, she said, "No legislation should be passed until a comprehensive needs assessment has been done to determine the needs of victims of the District of Columbia." She added, "No legislation should be passed until a survey of available resources is taken." Similar sentiments were expressed by other witnesses.
Watson suggested that the council concentrate on strengthening existing programs, in particular, the Rape Crisis Center, the court liaison division of the police department, Medicaid Assistance, Vocational Rehabilitation, Manpower and Latino Affairs.
"To create another commission and agency which does not have the maximum priority is likely to doom it to failure and waste what funds are spent," he said.
Council Member David Clarke, who chaired the hearing, disagreed with Watson. He later said that Watson "may be right in priorities," but that he was not correct in assuming that a "simple increase" of existing services would provide the aid needed by crime victims. Clarke said he felt that a "coordinated service delivery" was necessary and could be best accomplished by establishing an office that would provide new services as well as coordinate existing services.
Clarke said the future of the crime compensation proposal will depend on cost. During the hearing, he asked the District's Office of Criminal Justice and report to the Council's Committee on the Judiciary. If the cost of establishing an office should prove prohibitive, Clarke said, the next best thing would be to establish a council which would coordinate services presently available through various agencies without administering programs of its own.
"We have to price it out," said Clarke. "What we don't want to do is pass legislation and say there's a program . . . and then say, 'Oh, there's not that money.'"
Clarke also said that even if the price is not prohibitive and legislation is passed, funding to establish a board would not be available until at least October 1979, the beginning of the 1980 fiscal year.
According to Clarke, neither bill is in compliance with a similar federal legislation, the Victims of Crime Act of 1977 (H.R. 7010) which was amended and passed in the House and is pending in the Senate. The proposed federal act would fund state programs that compensate victims of crimes, providing 100 percent compensation for victims of federal crimes and 25 percent compensation for victims of state crimes.
At present 21 states, including Maryland and Virginia, have victims of crimes compensation or assistance programs. Maryland was among the first states to pass such legislation, in 1968, and Virginia, more recently, in 1976.
Clarke's committee must also consider whether a bill will require the individual responsible for the crime to make restitution to his victim. The federal legislation calls for state programs to have a restitution requirement. The problems, Clarke said, is that according to the D.C. criminal code only one crime - petit larceny - requires restitution and the code cannot presently be amended to require restitution because of restrictions in the Home Rule Charter.
Clarke said that the council would have to "fashion a creative way to give restitution" if the bill were to be in compliance with the proposal federal legislation.