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New York Times Institute - 2012

New York Times Institute - 2012

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Published by Nicole Chavez

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Published by: Nicole Chavez on Sep 03, 2013
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09/03/2013

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Compensation for Crime Victims Differs Among ArizonaCounties
 
By Nicole Chavez
 
In Arizona, victims of violent crime have access to as much as $20,000 to help pay for funerals and other expenses. But officials and a report by Arizona State University
assert that there’s a wide variation in how counties in the state disburse the money.
 
The study, released in August by BillHart, a senior policy analyst at ArizonaState University, called the crime victims
compensation program “among Arizona’s
best-
kept secrets.”
 
 According to the report, the total number of claims filed in Arizona by victimsseeking compensation decreased 25percent between 2002 and 2010. In thesame period, the number of claimsapproved decreased 19.5 percent, to1,238 from 1,538.
 
“It’s not easy to get compensation,” Hartsaid. “Either people don’t know about the
prog
ram or the rules are pretty strict.”
 
The report outlines a number of factors that have contributed to people’s difficulty in
getting compensation, including a lack of awareness of the program and adecentralized system of operations.
 
 Arizona and Colorado are the only two states in the country that have decentralized
systems. In Arizona, each of the state’s 15 counties has its own board responsible for 
the distribution of monetary assistance to crime victims.
 
“It’s not easy to get compensation when rules
are pretty strict and rule interpretation
varies by county,” Hart said.
 
 Arizona residents are eligible for compensation if they make a report to police within72 hours of a crime. They may become ineligible if there is proof that they wereinvolved in the crime itself or if they have outstanding county debts.
 
Dan Eddy, executive director of the National Association of Crime VictimCompensation Boards, said having a decentralized system encouraged prosecutorsto refer local victims to the program.
 
 
 
Critics say decentralized operations can lead to inconsistency in decisions and
differences in rules’ interpretation.
 
“Sometimes board members’ opinions, where they live, culture and bias take part inwhether they approve or deny a claim,” said Larry Grubbs, pro
gram manager of the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission Crime Victim Services.The commission collects and distributes the funds to each of the 15 counties basedon population.
 
In 2011, the commission allocated $2.8 million for the compensation program, with$2.56 million paid out to compensate 1,761 victims. For 2012, $3.85 million isavailable to be distributed to victims.
 
Counties that do not use the funds allotted to the program must return the money tothe commission at the end of the year. The money is then redistributed to countiesthat may have fallen short in funds.
 
The maximum award for a single claim in Arizona remains among the lowest in thenation, at $20,000. States with some of the highest payments include California,Oregon and Ohio, whose residents are eligible for payments between $50,000 and$65,000.
 
 Arizona receives about $1 million of the total $705 million approved annually byCongress. Federal funds, which come from fines paid by convicted offenders in
federal prisons, constitute a third of the compensation budget. Arizona’s remaining
two-
thirds comes from unclaimed victims’ restitution fees paid by offe
nders in eachcounty and state attorney general settlements.
 
 According to the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, many Arizona counties do not
spend all the money budgeted for victims’ compensation. Among those is Cochise, a
county with 140,263 residents in southern Arizona. In 2011, county officials returned$14,464 of the initial $60,000 they received from the commission.
 
On average, about 15 percent of applications in Cochise County are rejected before
they’re reviewed by the board, for not meeting t
he initial requirements set forth by thecounty, said Meg Bokhari, coordinator of the Cochise Victims Compensation Program.
 
“I know right now we have a lot of money in our account to help people,” Bokhari said.“If they meet the criteria, they will be OK for payment.”
 
In Maricopa County, which covers Phoenix and is the largest county in Arizona, with apopulation of 4,023,331, board officials returned $507,784 from the initial $1.37 millionallotted by the state commission. The total number of claims filed in the county alsodropped, to 611 in 2011 from 745 in 2009, and the number of claims denied increasedto 101 in 2010 from 57 in 2007.
 

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