Money taken from state victims fund

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    By Noelle Lau

    Crime Victims” advocacy groups throughout the state are up in arms over a legislative decision to bolster the state Department of Corrections with millions of dollars from the Utah Crime Victims Reparations Fund.

    “This money is designated especially for the victims of violent crime,” said Dan Davis, director of the Utah Office of Crime Victims Reparations Fund. “These monies should never be used to help the offenders.”

    In a decision split along party lines, the Executive Offices and Criminal Justice Appropriations Subcommittee voted last week to allocate $1.4 million to the Department of Corrections budget for the 2003 fiscal year from the Crime Victims Reparations Fund.

    “Everyone has to share in the pain,” said Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan and subcommittee co-chairman. “We have to use the money to keep highway patrol on the force and keep inmates from being released early.”

    The Executive Offices and Criminal Justice Appropriations Subcommittee also approved an annual $1.5 million to be siphoned from the Crime Victims Reparations Fund and funneled into a juvenile program sponsored by the state Department of Corrections, said subcommittee member Scott Daniels, D-Salt Lake.

    In a meeting Friday, the subcommittee deliberated whether an additional $750,000 will be taken from the Crime Victims Reparations Fund and deposited in the Department of Corrections budget during the 2004 fiscal year, Daniels said.

    Daniels was opposed to the plan to take money from the Crime Victims Reparations Fund.

    “Tax money has never gone into it, it is supposed to just go to victims of violent crime,” Daniels said. “It was just too tempting so it got raided.”

    The Crime Victims Reparations Fund was federal program started in 1987 to help the victims of violent crime obtain the physical and psychological help they need.

    The funds can be used to pay for medical or dental bills, funeral expenses, counseling, replacing broken eyeglasses, windows, door locks or other items destroyed during an attack.

    “It is really frustrating,” said Grace Call, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “There are so few resources for the victims of crime as it is. This is a gross violation of victims rights once again.”

    Last year victims received an average of $1,350 per claim, but awards can go as high $25,000, David said.

    “We have awarded $80 million in the last 16 years to victims and grants for organizations which directly support victims,” Davis said.

    The money in the fund comes from state and federal surcharges on fines, forfeitures and penalties, collected from people who have committed a crime.

    Over the past 16 years, the fund has accumulated a surplus of $14 million, from which the Department of Corrections will receive their funding.

    “The program will not be affected, not a penny,” Buttars said. “I find it offensive that they think they can have a reserve of millions of dollars in hard times like these.”

    Davis agrees that times are hard and legislatures have to make tough decisions, but emphasizes that this fund is for victims and victims only.

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