Courts could be short-changing victim's fund

By Paul Drewes
Published On: Mar 30 2014 02:00:00 PM HST

Victims of violent crimes in Hawaii are meant to be compensated for their pain but low revenues are jeopardizing their access to care.

HONOLULU -

Hawaii has a commission to compensate victims of violent crimes for pain, suffering and out-of-pocket expenses. But is that commission being robbed by our judicial system?

Click here to watch Paul Drewes' story.

At the Sex Abuse Treatment Center, Dr. Evie Yanagida and her counselors see a wide range of victims come in.

"It is very different from a burglary where someone steals your camera or your car. In a sex assault you are really taking a piece of that person," said Yanagida.

From sex-trafficked victims, to women and children sexually assaulted or raped the effects of the personal attacks can be devastating.

"Some of the victims come in with physical injuries that may heal in days or weeks, but the psychological impact of an assault can be devastating -- and last for years," added Yanagida.

Therapy may be just one of many expenses victims of violent crimes face, and those costs can quickly add up.

The Crime Victim Compensation Commission tries to reduce the financial impact of violent crimes by providing assistance with medical expenses, rehab, mental health treatment and more.

Funding for the program is supposed to come from every convicted offender who is or will be able to pay:

$30 for a petty misdemeanor
$55 for misdemeanor
$105-$505 for a felony

It is critical funding because it is matched by federal money.

In recent years, there has been a problem in getting courts to tack on the required fee to all offender sentences. In a number of those cases, the fees are waived.

"This is the lowest year in a decade of revenue for the compensation fee. That really jeopardizes our ability to ensure victims in the future will have enough money to pay for their crime-related expenses," said Pamela Ferguson-Brey, the executive director for the commission.

In 2013, the commission paid out nearly $780,000 in compensation claims, but in some years, $1 million dollars might be needed for victims.

"When we fall short, we've had to reduce the amount of payments in certain categories," said Ferguson-Brey.

Compensation for lost wages has been cut, and funeral expenses reduced for those killed in a violent crime.

The commission is pushing for judges to assess the mandatory fees, and for the judiciary to make sure those fees are collected.

"Victims are often invisible in the criminal justice system, and they need to move to the forefront," said Ferguson-Brey.

Victims of violent crimes can receive the compensation, even if there is no conviction or offender identified in their case. To be eligible, the incident has to be reported to police and the commission itself.

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