Salisbury Press

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Victim/witness unit receives grant

Tuesday, July 2, 2019 by CONTRIBUTED ARTICLE in News Briefs

Lehigh County DA

District Attorney Jim Martin has announced his office’s victim/witness unit has received a $700,000 grant.

The Rights and Service Act grant, which is administered by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, covers a period of two years and must be used for victim services.

The purpose of the grant is to assist victims and witnesses of adult and juvenile offenders whose cases are proceeding through the criminal and juvenile justice systems. This entails ensuring victims receive the information and services they need in order for them to be able to understand and participate in that process.

The Victim Witness Unit provides services to victims and witnesses in all crime types from homicide, domestic violence, assaults, DUIs and sexual assaults as well as theft, property damage and fraud.

The unit provides the following services:

•Providing documents that inform victims of their rights and provide them with case information and case status information

•Notifying victims of defendants’ sentencing dates

•Keeping victims updated on appeals

•Notifying victims when parole is being considered

•Identifying services needed and working with individuals and agencies, including the courts, attorneys, counseling services, employers, schools and victims compensation

•Providing court accompaniment, which includes interviews with both child abuse victims and adults

•Assisting clients with restitution calculation and claims

•Helping victims to write victim impact statements

•Notifying victims of the availability of inmate release notification through the Pennsylvania Office of the Victim Advocate and Pennsylvania’s Automated Victim Notification System

•Assisting victims in navigating the post-sentence process in order to obtain restitution, parole information and deal with questions related to civil court proceedings.

The victim/witness unit, which is headed by Kimberly Silvestri, also includes victim advocates, Emily Johnson and Kimberly Bloom. Their salaries and benefits are covered entirely by this grant. Each staff member is required to have 10 hours of training per year. The RASA grant offsets those costs as well.

In addition, the grant money is used for the costs entailed with the production of the victim/witness handbook as well as operation of the victim/witness rooms in the district attorney’s office. It also will cover the cost of furnishing a new area in the office which will be utilized as a waiting and interview room for victims and witnesses. The area will include age-appropriate toys for children who are victims or witnesses in order to help them feel more comfortable during what can be a stressful time.

“The victim/witness unit of my office does important work. The RASA grant is a major element in funding this worthy program. I am grateful to the PCCD for helping my staff to ensure that all victims and witnesses receive the information and support to which they’re entitled,” Martin said.