- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 25, 2002

For the second time in a week, D.C. officials yesterday announced a major step to help crime victims in the city beyond catching the perpetrators.
Victims now have free and unlimited access to VINE Victim Information Notification Everyday an automated system that locates convicted and suspected offenders in police custody, said D.C. Department of Corrections Director Odie Washington.
"This is national victims' rights week," Mr. Washington told reporters yesterday at a news conference at 1 Judiciary Square. "Criminal justice systems across the country need to be more victim-centered."
When suspected criminals are caught, police officers will give pamphlets about VINE to the victims, who can register for the program through the Department of Corrections. Officials will notify the victims by telephone when the offenders are released on bond, paroled or sent to a halfway house.
"This system literally gives victims an opportunity to know the status of offenders at any time," Mr. Washington said, adding that in the District, VINE is to be geared particularly toward helping female victims of domestic violence.
Brook Hedge, the presiding domestic-violence judge for D.C. Superior Court, said that in domestic-violence cases especially, "it's very hard to sit and see the fear in a victims' eyes when they don't know where the offender is."
"I've had victims ask me, 'How do I know when and where he's being released?' and I just haven't been able to answer those questions," she said. "Now I will."
VINE, which will cost the Department of Corrections $80,000 annually, is operated by Appriss, a Louisville, Ky.-based communications company that runs the program in 39 states across the country.
Mr. Washington said the District has information on about 3,000 city criminals listed in VINE's central data bank, including that status of offenders in halfway houses, who have been released from prison or are awaiting sentencing. Crime victims can learn about the program by calling 877/329-7894.
"For us to be able to help victims learn on a 24-hour basis the status of inmates we just can't overstate how important it is," said Roscoe C. Howard Jr., U.S. attorney for the District.
Indeed, the history of VINE illustrates that importance. The program grew from the grief of a Kentucky couple, who pledged to improve victims' rights after their daughter was slain in 1993.
Mary Frances Byron was stalked and killed just three weeks after her ex-boyfriend, Donovan Harris, was released from a Kentucky jail on charges he had kidnapped and raped her at gunpoint.
Miss Byron, celebrating her 21st birthday, wasn't aware Harris was free on bond and was prowling behind her workplace waiting for a chance to gun her down.
During the months after her death, Kentucky lawmakers developed the system to notify victims of domestic violence when their suspected assailants were released from custody.
In addition to VINE, D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey last week announced that officers had begun distributing "Victims Rights and Resources" cards to inform crime victims of their rights to temporary shelter and counseling, to watch trials and to receive compensation for losses.
The chief said the effort was spawned by a recent survey showing that fewer than 11 percent of crime victims in the District were told by officers about the city's federally funded Crime Victim Compensation Program, which had been available since 1985.

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