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SAVIN lives: notifying victims of their assailants' whereabouts can help prevent another crime.

Twenty-one-year-old Mary Byron was shot to death on Dec. 6, 1993, by her former boyfriend who had just been released on bail. A few weeks earlier he had been arrested and jailed for kidnapping, stalking and raping her. Officials in Louisville, Ky., assured Mary they would notify her and her family when and if he was released from custody. Sadly, they did not. The brutal attack inspired the creation of the first automated victim identification system. Today, 23 states have Statewide Automatic Victim Information Notification (SAVIN) systems.

SAVIN is designed to ensure that victims receive the information they need to participate fully in the judicial process. By registering with the system, victims, their families and coworkers are notified when any significant event surrounding a specific case occurs.

Knowing when an assailant is being released from prison is particularly important to victims of hate crimes, stalking and rape, according to the late Representative May Ringold Whittington, a professional counselor who pushed for the system in Mississippi. "It creates a scary situation for the victims when they do not know if their attackers are behind bars or not," she said.

Victims rights advocates argue that the information is an absolute must. Indeed, nearly 40 states have solidified this right in their state codes or constitutions. States typically guarantee victims reasonable and timely notice of any public proceeding involving the crime and of any release or escape of the accused. The automation of the process provides a more accurate and efficient way to guarantee that the legal rights of the victim are honored.

In 2004, the North Carolina Criminal Justice Analysis Center evaluated its SAVIN system. The results indicated that criminal justice agencies benefited from time savings and improved community relations. Sixty percent of the agency officials who responded to the survey indicated that benefits exceeded the costs of the system.

The system, however, did suffer some shortcomings. These included a lack of public awareness, technical problems and gaps in available information. Other resistance to the SAVIN systems include cost concerns, the fact that some counties already have existing systems, and that rural communities do not have the capacity to enter data in a timely manner.

SAVIN systems require coordination, collaboration and leadership at all levels of state government, as well as money at the state and local level. The cost for a SAVIN program is primarily driven by the number of counties in a state and the number of offenders. Start-up costs vary, but generally they require about $100,000 in infrastructure plus about $8,000 per agency connecting to the network. Recurring costs range from under $100,000 in a small state to as much as $3 million in a state like Texas. The average SAVIN program costs roughly $500,000 per year to operate.

FEDS HELP OUT

In October 2004, President Bush signed the Justice for All Act, which provided about $8 million in FY 2005 and $9 million in FY 2006 to help states starting or expanding state-of-the-art crime notification systems. To date, 16 states have received federal SAVIN funding. In 2005, the Bureau of Justice Assistance selected the IJIS Institute, a not-for-profit company based in Ashburn, Va., to develop guidelines and standards for states that apply for SAVIN funding. States receiving grants under this program must use the standards and guidelines as part of their planning. The Bureau of Justice Assistance also will help compile a clearinghouse of information related to SAVIN programs to assist states in establishing or expanding programs.

BEYOND VICTIMS

Most state notification systems allow anyone to check the location and status of any offender. Parents of victims, for example, can be notified when an offender is released from custody. So can an employee at the site of a violent workplace incident.

Florida has used its SAVIN network to capture absconders after their warrant issue date. A sample search of only 100 records located six absconders who are currently incarcerated in facilities outside of Florida. The FBI recently used SAVIN databases to capture a suspect on its Most Wanted Fugitive List.

Blake Harrison is an NCSL expert in crime information systems.
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Title Annotation:Statewide Automatic Victim Information Notification
Author:Harrison, Blake
Publication:State Legislatures
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2006
Words:686
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