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OVS awarded nearly $1 million in federal funding to create unique Crime Victims’ Legal Network

November 17, 2015 - 8:00am

Online tool will allow crime victims to determine the type of help they need in civil legal matters

For Immediate Release: 11/17/2015

Contact: Janine Kava | janine.kava@dcjs.ny.gov | (518) 457-8828
Press Office, Office of Victim Services

The New York State Office of Victim Services (OVS) today announced it has been awarded nearly $1 million in federal funding to create a unique online tool that will connect crime victims with legal assistance in civil matters, such as housing and immigration cases and Family Court cases involving custody, support and orders of protection. The Crime Victims’ Legal Network will allow individuals to determine the type of legal help they need and then connect them with resources to ensure their interests are represented.

“There are a variety of legal concerns that directly arise as a result of being the victim of a crime,” OVS Director Elizabeth Cronin said. “For example, domestic violence survivors may not have the means to hire an attorney to pursue a divorce or individuals suffering physical injuries from a crime may be unable to work, putting them at risk for losing their home. This funding will allow New York State to create a model program that will further enhance services for crime victims by helping them get the additional help they need to rebuild their lives.”

The Office of Victim Services received two grants totaling $999,940 from the federal Office for Victims of Crime (www.ovc.gov), part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs. The agency is teaming with the Empire Justice Center, University at Albany’s Center for Human Services Research, and Pro Bono Net on the project.

The Crime Victims’ Legal Network will be designed to help individuals outside of New York City, as there are fewer civil legal services available in those 57 counties. While OVS funds a network of 226 crime victim assistance programs that serve individuals in every county of the state, fewer than 10 percent of those programs offer legal help with civil matters. 

“Victim assistance programs across New York State do a wonderful job in providing men, women and children with direct services, such as counseling, crisis intervention, access to compensation and advocacy in the criminal justices system, but there are far fewer civil legal services outside of New York City,” Director Cronin said. “This grant will allow us to expand our reach, especially to rural areas of the state. Our goal is to create a comprehensive, collaborative network to provide holistic legal assistance to better assess the needs of, and ultimately serve, victims of crime.”

Crime victim advocates have consistently identified the dire need for civil legal services in housing, immigration and Family Court matters and a streamlined, easy way for victims to access help.

The lack of services, particularly in rural areas across the state, results in many individuals pursuing civil litigation without a lawyer. A recent study by the state Office of Court Administration found that roughly 2.3 million New Yorkers – many of them either low-income individuals or families – are involved in civil litigation without legal representation. 

Creation of the network is a multi-phased project estimated to be completed in two, 18-month periods. As a first step now underway, UAlbany’s Center for Human Services Research is assessing existing legal services in counties Upstate and on Long Island to determine where there are gaps. An advisory committee of crime victim advocates, researchers, law enforcement officials and other leaders from community-based organizations is shepherding that assessment work; the Office of Victim Services hosted the first in-person meeting of the committee today.

Once the assessment is complete, OVS, its partner agencies and the advisory committee will design a comprehensive legal services system that identifies existing resources, including service providers, pro-bono legal clinics, law schools and private attorneys, and uses technology to connect crime victims with those resources. Attorneys representing crime victims’ civil interests also will advocate for victim’s rights in criminal proceedings to the extent allowed by New York law.

The Crime Victims’ Legal Network’s online tool will help individuals determine what assistance is available, whether they can proceed with a civil matter with only legal advice or if they require representation by an attorney. After their specific needs are identified, individuals will be connected with the appropriate services for their circumstances.

Empire Justice Center President and CEO Anne Erickson said, “This is a cross-cutting area of civil legal needs for crime victims that needs more attention and we welcome the opportunity to help lead this effort.”

Darrell P. Wheeler, Dean of UAlbany’s School of Social Welfare and Vice Provost for Public Engagement, said, “Our Center for Human Services Research will conduct an empirical analysis of crime statistics and civil legal services data, augmented with information collected from victims and service providers to determine the types of services that are needed and where they are needed. I want to congratulate the Office of Victim Services, CHSR, as well as Empire Justice Center and Pro Bono Net for developing this critical resource for the most vulnerable individuals in New York.”

Pro Bono Net Program Director Liz Keith said, "This initiative will use innovative technology solutions to make it easier for crime victims in rural and underserved regions to access much needed legal assistance. Pro Bono Net is pleased to support this ambitious effort and to help strengthen the vital work of direct legal services providers.”

The Office of Victim Services (www.ovs.ny.gov) has a three-tiered mission to provide compensation to innocent victims of crime, fund direct services to crime victims through a network of community-based programs and to advocate for the rights of all innocent victims of crime. For more information about services offered by OVS, including eligibility guidelines and a list of victim assistance programs that provide direct help to crime victims across all 62 counties in New York, visit the agency’s website 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.

An internationally recognized research university, the University at Albany-SUNY offers 120 undergraduate majors and minors and more than 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. 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.

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

The Crime Victims’ Legal Network will be 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.

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