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 But some people thought the board’s rules had become outdated — and AB1140, which takes effect next month, seeks to bring things into the 21st century.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.