During Kay Bryson's campaign for Utah County attorney two years ago, his opponents said the county attorney's office was not doing enough to help crime victims.
To a certain extent, Bryson agreed. The assistance provided to crime victims is tied directly to the resources available, he said, and the county attorney's office had little money earmarked for crime victims. Basically, the deputy attorneys and their secretaries were contacting victims and witnesses and referring them to the various assistance programs. With the attorneys' heavy caseload, victims sometimes were not getting the attention they needed.In the past year, however, that has changed. The county attorney's office applied for and received several grants from federal victims programs. Bryson used the money to hire a victim/witness coordinator. Also, the Legislature provided funding for the Utah County Children's Justice Center, a place where the interviewing of child abuse and child sex abuse victims by the various agencies is coordinated.
"We're doing a lot more than we used to do, but we can probably do more," Bryson said. "But I'm not certain we can ever do as much as should be done or victims would like to be done unless government agencies are willing to provide the funds."
When the county attorney's office files a charge in a violent crime, Lori Adkins, Utah County victim/witness coordinator, contacts the victim or victims personally. She explains how the court system works, takes them on a tour of the courtroom and prepares them to testify. She also attends all court hearings and keeps victims informed on what is going on in the case. Her job is to make victims and witnesses comfortable with the legal process.
"I try to make them feel like a part of the system, where before they were getting lost in it," Adkins said. "They are not just an outsider in this process. They need to know that what they're contributing is very important."
Adkins also makes sure victims of violent crimes receive therapy if they need or want it. She assists victims in filling out the necessary forms to receive reparation or restitution from the State Crime Victims Reparation Fund. Even though the county attorney's office is doing more to assist witnesses and crime victims, Bryson is fearful it may not stay that way. The grant money used to pay a victim/witness coordinator and fund the Children's Justice Center is short-term and is intended only to be seed money. To keep a victim/witness coordinator and the Children's Justice Center, the county likely will have to provide its own funding someday.
"I certainly hope that will happen, but the way government budgets are I'm not optimistic that it will," Bryson said.
For her work as a victims advocate during the past year, Adkins was honored at the State Capitol Wednesday at the State Crime Victims Rights Conference. The award and conference were sponsored by the Governor's Council of Victims and were part of National Crime Victim Rights Week.
Crime victims' and witnesses' bill of rights:
- Information about protection from intimidation and harm.
- Information and assistance about their role in the justice system.
- Timely notice of court dates.
- Clear explanations about legal proceedings.
- A waiting area away from defendant during court proceedings.
- Reasonable employer intercession services during legal proceedings.
- Restitution and reparation when appropriate.
- A speedy disposition of case.
- The speedy return of personal property following legal proceedings.