California’s system for helping victims of violent crimes is getting a major update come Jan. 1, when a new law takes effect aiming to better connect survivors with services.

California’s Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board provides money to survivors of violent crime and their families for things like funeral expenses, therapy and lost wages. But some people thought the board’s rules had become outdated — and  AB1140, which takes effect next month, seeks to bring things into the 21st century.

“Our concern was that we, in our practice, often saw victims not getting the services they needed because of restrictions around the rules,” said San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, who helped craft the law by Assemblyman Rob Bonta and Sen. Loni Hancock, both Oakland Democrats.

A lot of the new law’s provisions recognize lessons learned in recent years — including the fact that victims and criminal offenders can be the same people, Gascón said. Current law bars people on probation or parole for a felony from seeking compensation, even if they are the victim of a separate crime. AB1140 will change that for people on probation or parole for a nonviolent crime.

“Many of the offenders are people that were victimized earlier. And they were traumatized in violence and victimization was normalized in their life, and they start themselves become the aggressors and victimizing others,” Gascón said.

The law will also catch the board up with the times and technology, Gascón said — by letting victims testify at restitution hearings by video; by increasing the amount of money a family can receive for funeral expenses; and by letting survivors receive information about their rights in their native language.

Supporters hope the tweaks will allow more people to access the help they need, Gascón said.

“It is moving to the 21st century. It is also being more realistic how victims are going to react to the criminal justice process. And frankly it’s being more humane,” he said.

The new law also changes the rules so that domestic violence survivors won’t be barred from receiving help just because they wouldn’t cooperate at the scene of the crime. Gascón said there are many reasons a victim wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to police immediately. He hopes lawmakers will eventually extend that provision to include juvenile victims.

Ayoola Mitchell agrees that the new law is just a start. The Mill Valley resident said two of her sons were shot in separate Oakland incidents several years ago. While the family received help when one was killed, a year and a half earlier, when her oldest son was shot 17 times and survived, he was deemed ineligible for victim funds because police said he wasn’t cooperative enough.

“And so part of the work that I want to see happen … is redefining what it means to not cooperate with law enforcement, because making certain requests to protect yourself is not the same as saying I am not talking to you,” she said.

  • Dave Combs

    At least one official in California is admitting there is violent crime. Another approach would be to prevent California residents from becoming victims of crime in the first place. There’s a 2/3 majority of Democrats who, if they were so motivated, could override the effects of Prop. 36 and Prop. 47 easily. But the pain and suffering of victims of violent crime is not on their agenda. Vote wisely and if you know of voter fraud, tell it to True the Vote. California officials don’t care.


Marisa Lagos

Marisa Lagos reports on state politics for KQED’s California Politics and Government Desk, which uses radio, television and online mediums to explore the latest news in California’s Capitol and dig deeper into political influence in the Golden State. Marisa also appears on a weekly podcast analyzing the week’s political news.

Before joining KQED, Marisa worked  at the San Francisco Examiner and Los Angeles Times, and, most recently, for nine years at the San Francisco Chronicle where she covered San Francisco City Hall and state politics, focusing on the California legislature, governor, budget and criminal justice. In 2011, she won a special award for extensive and excellent work in covering California justice issues from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, and also helped lead the Chronicle's award-winning breaking news coverage of the 2010 San Bruno Pacific Gas & Electric explosion. She has also been awarded a number of fellowships from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York.

Marisa has a bachelor's degree from the University of California at Santa Barbara. She and lives in San Francisco with her two sons and husband. Email: Twitter @mlagos Facebook

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