By Matthew Torres
SACRAMENTO, CA – Legislation introduced here at the Capitol this week by State Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley would enable crime survivors to receive the financial help needed to recover—and would also help people found innocent pay for legal assistance.
“While some crime victims in California get much-needed assistance, there are far too many survivors that have either been denied or are unaware of the financial help, counseling, and healing services the state has to offer,” said Sen. Skinner.
She said SB 993 is aimed at improving and expanding services for crime victims in California by expanding eligibility and increasing financial resources available from the California Victim Compensation Board (CalVCB).
Crime victims have already been able to receive financial assistance and services from the CalVCB, but research shows that multiple restrictions disqualify a majority of crime survivors from receiving financial services beneficial to recovering, Skinner explained.
SB 993 would expand and improve victims’ services by increasing the amount of financial assistance crime survivors receive, address eligibility restrictions for people with a criminal history, prohibit denial of compensation solely for “noncooperation” with law enforcement, while expanding the eligibility criteria for victim relief to include documentation other than a police report, the analysis of SB 993 shows.
Additionally, the author said, SB 993 would establish a program for the state to contract with community-based organizations to provide direct cash assistance to survivors of violence, add a member to victim compensation board with experience in restorative justice, and require courts to provide information to crime survivors about the convicted offender’s length of sentence and how the appeals process and eligibility for parole can affect it.
Skinner shared statistics from a statewide survey of California victims’ views on safety and justice led by the Californians for Safety and Justice and Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice.
“Less than one in five California crime victims reported receiving financial help, counseling, medical assistance, and other types of healing services. In fact, only 11 percent of survivors said they received financial assistance from crime losses and only 12 percent said they got help paying their medical bills,” said Skinner.
While people of color are more likely to be victimized in California, they are also less likely to receive financial assistance, added Skinner, noting one reason is they’re less likely to report crimes to police.
Lack of trust in the legal justice system is what experts suggest is the reason why people don’t report crime or don’t cooperate with law enforcement.
A major advocate for SB 993, Executive Director of Californians for Safety and Justice Tinisch Hollins says that “we can no longer allow the majority of California’s survivors of crime and violence to be ignored and excluded from a system not built to help those who need it the most.”
He continues, “We must urgently address the multiple ways the system discriminates against and creates unnecessary barriers for victims from Black, Brown and other underserved communities… When we listen to survivors and give them the resources they need to heal, we will see a direct, positive impact on the safety and wellness of all our communities.”
SB 993 also aims at improving services provided by the Victim Compensation Board for people wrongfully convicted of crimes.
It would increase the amount of compensation that exonerees can receive for being wrongfully imprisoned, allow reimbursement for reasonable attorney’s fees for successful claims in front of the Victim Compensation Board.
The measure also provides reimbursement for reasonable amounts that people spend on getting their convictions overturned, securing pardons, or obtaining a finding of factual innocence, and allow for reimbursement for days they wrongfully served on parole or probation.
Senator Skinner concluded, “[P]eople who have been wrongfully convicted of a crime shouldn’t have to hire an attorney at their own expense in order to receive the exoneree support the state has authorized. That’s simply unfair.”