For Immediate Release 11/22/2016
The Office of the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City (SAO) recently received a $2.4 M grant from the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention (GOCCP) through the federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Crime Victims Fund tosignificantly expand and improve services to victims and witnesses of crime.
The two-year grant funds ten new positions in the State’s Attorney’s Office, five existing positions and several operational expenses.
“I am so grateful to the Governor Larry Hogan and the Office of Crime Control and Prevention for this critical funding,” said State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. “With approximately 20 percent of cases dismissed in Circuit Court because a witness’s failure to appear, Baltimore City residents have lived under the code of ‘stop snitching’ for far too long; this funding is going to ensure that we have the resources to properly help those who courageously step forward to help us. When I took office, the Victim/Witness Unit in the SAO was understaffed and underfunded. I reorganized the unit, placed a veteran prosecutor in charge, and set a goal of having an advocate assigned to each major prosecutorial unit in the office. This grant will bring us much closer to reaching that goal.”
The Victim/Witness Unit in the SAO serves the victims and witnesses of all crimes that occur in Baltimore City, regardless of the status or outcome of the prosecution. Advocates in the Victim/Witness Unit are assigned to specific prosecutorial units. Due to limited funding, advocates are currently only assigned to three prosecutorial divisions: Homicide, Felony Trial and Special Victims. Grant funding will enable the SAO to hire seven new victim/witness advocates who will be assigned to the following units: Gun Violence Enforcement, Misdemeanor Jury Trial, Public Trust and Police Integrity, Major Investigations and District Court.
VOCA grant funds will also be used to hire two new witness coordinators for the Homicide Unit. The Homicide Unit is staffed by two full-time advocates who work with the survivors of homicide victims, providing court support and accompaniment; however, witnesses of homicide have historically been grossly underserved. The prosecutors in the Homicide Unit estimate that every homicide in Baltimore City is witnessed by, on average, ten individuals. It is extremely rare for a homicide case in Baltimore City to have fewer than ten witnesses and not uncommon to have up to 20 witnesses. These new coordinators will work with the prosecutors in the Homicide Unit to identify and locate witnesses, coordinate interviews and court appearances and accompany witnesses to trial. The coordinators will also connect witnesses to critical services offered by the SAO such as counseling and relocation.
“In 2015, our city had more than 300 homicides that left communities and families destroyed,” said Mosby. “Unfortunately, a number of these murders are still under investigation simply because witnesses are too afraid to come forward. This grant is going to help us improve on several new policies that have been implemented since the start of my administration to serve survivors of homicide. For example, our homicide advocates now contact the survivors of every homicide victim in the City to inform them of available services, regardless of the status of their case. We no longer wait for a suspect to be identified and charges to be filed; survivors can begin to access services, such as counseling or meetings with prosecutors, immediately following the death of their loved one.”
Grant funds will also be used to hire a coordinator to work exclusively with vulnerable adults in financial abuse cases. These cases can be devastating for the victim and their family members. In the majority of cases, the perpetuator is a caregiver, family member of close friend of the victim; and, far too often, the abuse is not revealed until after the victim passed away. The coordinator will work closely with the prosecutors in the Economic Crimes Unit to prosecute these cases and secure restitution for victims and their loved ones.
The FY2016 VOCA grant also supports five existing positions in the Family Bereavement Center (FBC) and the Juvenile Victim/Witness Unit. The Family Bereavement Center is the only bereavement center in the state that provides counseling to survivors of homicide victims five days a week. Since opening its doors in 1990, the FBC has served over 10,000 survivors of homicide; in 2015, the FBC served a record 573 individuals. State’s Attorney Mosby has doubled the size of the Family Bereavement Center over the past two years from just three employees in 2014 to six employees today, including three full-time therapists, two advocates and a bilingual advocate. The Juvenile Victim/Witness Unit, located in the Juvenile Justice Center, serves victims and witnesses of crimes committed by juveniles.
“The Victim/Witness Unit serves thousands of victims and witnesses of crime each year through the Victim/Witness Waiting Room in the Mitchell Courthouse, the Family Bereavement Center, the Juvenile Victim/Witness Unit in the Juvenile Justice Center, the Domestic Violence Unit in District Court and our headquarters in Downtown Baltimore,” said Deputy Director of Victim/Witness Services Arcelia Greene. “This grant funding will make it significantly easier for victims and witnesses to access our services through increased translation services for non-English speaking victims and witnesses of crime, validated parking for victims and witnesses at our multiple locations, and increased training for our advocates and therapists.”
Funds will be used to procure the Language Line, a phone-based interpretation service that enables individuals who speak different languages to communicate with Assistant State’s Attorneys and victim advocates in real-time. The Juvenile Unit, through funding awarded under the FY2015 VOCA grant program, has been using the Language Line for over a year with great success.
Funds will also be used to translate the SAO’s website into Spanish, renovate the Victim/Witness Waiting Room in the Mitchell Courthouse and for staff training and certification.
The Victims of Crime Act of 1984 created the Crime Victims Fund, a special mandatory spending account dedicated solely to helping victims of crime and funded entirely by federal criminal fines and penalties. Funds are distributed annually to all 50 states and U.S. territories on a formula basis; in Maryland, the funds are administered by the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention.
In 2000, in response to large fluctuations in deposits, Congress capped annual spending from the Fund to ensure the stability of future funding.The cap on spending caused the Fund balance to grow to almost $9 billion by 2013. In 2015, in response to repeated calls from victim service providers for increased support, Congress passed a budget resolution nearly quadrupling the cap on annual spending. Maryland’s allocation increased from $8.4 million in FY2014 to $36 million in FY2015 and $41 million in FY2016. GOCCP capped spending increases at 20 percent in FY2015 to allow for a statewide needs assessment and planning period. The State’s Attorney’s Office participated in the statewide needs assessment and conducted an internal needs assessment; the results of both assessments informed the priorities in the SAO’s FY2016 grant application.
Through the VOCA grant, approximately $46 million was awarded to various agencies across the state. The $2.4 million awarded to the SAO was the largest award granted to any local agency, and the second largest awarded overall.
In 2015, State’s Attorney Mosby established a Policy & Legislative Affairs Division, which has secured a 27 percent increase in total SAO grant funding. In FY2017, the SAO received a record 22 state and federal grants totaling $6.4M up from $5M in FY2015.