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Online Resource Connecting Victims of Crime to Civil Legal Services Now Available in Capital Region, Mid-Hudson, Mohawk Valley and North Country Counties

June 13, 2019 - 3:15pm

New York State Office of Victim Services partnered with nonprofits to create New York Crime Victims Legal Help, now available in 26 counties

For Immediate Release: 6/13/2019

 

Online Resource Connecting Victims of Crime to Civil Legal Services Now Available in Capital Region, Mid-Hudson, Mohawk Valley and North Country Counties

New York State Office of Victim Services partnered with nonprofits to create New York Crime Victims Legal Help, now available in 26 counties

The New York State Office of Victim Services today announced that an online resource connecting crime victims with information and free legal assistance is now available in Capital Region, Mid-Hudson, Mohawk Valley and North Country counties, allowing victims to learn about their rights and connect with resources or legal representation to ensure their interests are represented. Established using $1.5 million in federal funds secured by the state agency, New York Crime Victims Legal Help initially served Erie, Genesee and Niagara counties and is now available in 23 additional counties in the state. Many victims of crime have legal needs resulting from their victimization – assistance with housing or custody matters, for example – but are unsure where to turn for help. This user-friendly, online resource makes it easier for those individuals to get the assistance they need.

“In the months since the New York Crime Victims Legal Help resource has gone online, it has proven to be a guidepost for individuals who are struggling to piece their lives back together after they’ve been victimized,” Office of Victim Services Director Elizabeth Cronin said. “With the continued expansion of this service, more victims will be able to learn about their rights and access local legal resources to help them navigate civil matters involving housing, immigration, family court, social services, and more.”

Crime victims who live or have a civil legal issue in the counties that follow can use the Crime Victims Legal Help screening tool and online directory to get information and assistance and if necessary, find an attorney. To help ensure that a network of attorneys is available to assist victims, the Office of Victim Services also has provided nearly $16 million in federal funding to 61 victim assistance programs throughout the state, including New York City. The funding has allowed those programs to hire attorneys and other staff to represent victims’ interests as needed. Learn more about the initiative and see the list of funded programs.

Capital Region

  • Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren and Washington counties

Mid-Hudson

  • Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester counties

Mohawk Valley

  • Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties

North Country

  • Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton and St. Lawrence counties

Western New York

  • Erie, Genesee and Niagara counties

The Office of Victim Services received the $1.5 million grant for the project from the federal Office for Victims of Crime and partnered with the Empire Justice Center, Pro Bono Net and the University at Albany’s Center for Human Services Research to develop the resource, which assists crime victims outside of New York City. Civil legal resources can be scarce or difficult to access in the rest of the state, particularly in rural communities.

The resource features a user-friendly screening tool that allows crime victims to identify what legal needs they may have and then locate relevant resources; a searchable legal service help directory with filters to isolate organizations that can assist with specific issues; a self-help resource library to inform them of their rights; and a live chat function to access referral information in real time. Crime victim advocates and service providers also can use the screening tool and legal help directory to assist individuals they serve and crime victims can connect with Office of Victim Services-funded programs that can provide counseling, shelter and other assistance, in addition to helping them apply for financial assistance from the agency.

Crime victims outside of the 26 counties may still use the website to find information about their rights, learn more about their legal issues and access resources, such as legal forms and links to other service providers. Approximately 5,500 people have used the website since October, when it was piloted in Erie, Genesee and Niagara counties. By the end of the year, the screening tool and legal help directory will be available in the state’s 57 counties outside of New York City.

New York Crime Victims Legal Help focuses on the most common civil legal problems identified by crime victims and service providers through a needs assessment conducted by the Center for Human Services Research: family, housing, finances, employment, and immigration matters. Pro Bono Net and the Empire Justice Center also identified legal advocates who assist crime victims using the website and recruited trained law student volunteers who staff the website’s live chat function.

Remla Parthasarathy, Crime Victims Legal Network Project Leader at Empire Justice Center, said, “It’s been really exciting to see what was a mere plan come to fruition. Development of the online resources on New York Crime Victims Legal Help have been years in the making. We worked intently to create the tools and resources that victims of crime and service providers told us they needed, and we regularly gathered their feedback to ensure that it was being designed and developed to best meet their needs. Empire Justice Center looks forward to the continued expansion of the resources available through New York Crime Victims Legal Help to the rest of the state.”

Karen Nicolson, Chief Executive Office, Center for Elder Law and Justice, said, “The Center for Elder Law and Justice is proud to have been one of the founding advisory members to New York Crime Victims Legal Network. The online resources, first piloted in Western New York, have easily and efficiently linked crime victims with our free legal services. The ability to find the right services quickly, without the need for multiple phone calls, is so important to our clients during the stressful time following a criminal act. We especially applaud the efforts of the New York State Office of Victim Services to ensure that vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and disabled, can access all services available to victims of crime.”

Pro Bono Net Program Director Liz Keith said, “We are excited that the statewide rollout of Crime Victims Legal Network is underway, and grateful to the service providers who have worked with us to develop this innovative, victim-centered network of services. After our pilot stage in the Buffalo region, crimevictimshelpny.org now offers enhanced online tools that make it easier for victims to locate and connect with civil legal aid programs and other helpful resources in their area.” 

Susan Ehrhard-Dietzel, Senior Research Scientist at UAlbany’s Center for Human Services Research, said, “It has been rewarding to see our research inform the development and implementation of New York Crime Victims Legal Network. The University at Albany’s Center for Human Services Research is honored to be part of this continued collaboration to assist crime victims. This partnership of organizations with different areas of expertise is a good example of what we have endeavored to do with the network: bring different resources together under one umbrella to help people. We are excited to see the network expand so that victims all across New York State can more easily access information and services.”

The Center for Human Services Research is asking victims of crime who have used New York Crime Victims Legal help to provide feedback via an online survey.

The Office of Victim Services provides a safety net for crime victims and/or their family members, helping eligible individuals with medical and counseling expenses, funeral and burial expenses, lost wages and support, in addition to other assistance, all at no cost to taxpayers. The agency also funds more than 200 victim assistance programs that provide direct services, including counseling, advocacy and legal services, among other help, across the state. For more information, eligibility guidelines and to locate a victim assistance program, visit ovs.ny.gov or call 1-800-247-8035.

The mission of the Empire Justice Center (www.empirejustice.org) is to protect and strengthen the legal rights of the poor, disabled or disenfranchised through advocacy, training to other advocates, and high-quality direct civil legal representation.

Based in New York City, Pro Bono Net (www.probono.net) is a nonprofit leader in developing innovative technology and forging collaborations to increase access to justice.

The Center for Human Services Research (www.albany.edu/chsr) is part of UAlbany’s School of Social Welfare and has more than 20 years of experience conducting evaluation research, designing information systems, and informing policy and program development for a broad spectrum of agencies serving vulnerable populations.

 

Crime Victims Legal Help (https://crimevictimshelpny.org/) was established as a result of work done by the New York State Office of Victim Services and its partner agencies, the Center for Human Services Research, the Empire Justice Center and Pro Bono Net, under Grant No. 2014-XV-BX-K009 awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.