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Saturday, June 03, 2006

Helping Victims

Legal system compensates crime vicitms

June 3, 2006

To learn more
For information on the Crime Victims Reparations Program:
In Bossier Parish, call the Bossier sheriff substation at (318) 747-8600.
In Caddo, call Pamela Dixon with Caddo Parish sheriff's office community programs at (318) 681-0870.

By Mary Jimenez

In the midst of Cora Savannah's grief following her husband's murder Aug. 11, her family got a knock on the door.

Pamela Dixon, of the Caddo Parish sheriff's Crime Victims Reparations Program wanted to help. The program offers financial compensation for victims of violent or personal crimes. Dixon told Savannah they could help with her husband's funeral expenses and offer her family counseling.

"I met my husband in ninth grade and we were married for 29 years. You never get over something like that, but just the thought that someone was concerned helped," said Savannah, who is unable to give any details on her husband's murder with the case currently in court. "We'd never heard of the program and if they hadn't come by, we'd probably still never have known about it."

Established in 1982, Louisiana's Crime Victims Reparations Fund and program are administered by a state Crime Victims Reparations Board and usually managed by a member of each local sheriff's office.

The fund is a part of a national victims' rights program available in every state and pays out close to $450 million annually, according to the National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards. The money comes from offender fees and fines rather than taxpayer dollars with about a third of the money coming from the federal Victims of Crime Act fund.

It's a fairly unknown or unused benefit, said Dixon, who runs the program in Caddo Parish.

"Sometimes when I hear about a crime, I'll go ahead and contact the victims to tell them about the program," said Dixon, who helped Caddo award $144,519.01 to 101 victims in 2005. "There is a cap of $10,000, but believe it or not, that goes a long way. If they have substantial personal injury, they can get up to $25,000."

Bossier Parish also has a victim compensation program managed by the sheriff's office. Spokesman Ed Baswell said the program awarded $53,769.06 to 39 victims in 2005.

"Sometimes they're just shocked to know that it exists," Baswell said.

Typically, crime victim compensation programs pay primarily for medical care, mental health counseling, lost wages and support and funerals, but there are miscellaneous expenses that could also be covered.

"We had one case that a husband burned down his wife's house and she was compensated for that," Baswell said.

Most applications submitted are approved, Dixon said, but there are some requirements and those with a felony conviction are not eligible.

The five basic requirements are the victim is a Louisiana resident, they must have reported the crime within 72 hours, the application for compensation must be filed within a year (unless there is an acceptable reason for not doing so) and the victim must have cooperated fully with law enforcement officials in the investigation.

Dixon likes her job, although it does force her to follow many sad stories.

"But when I see the program is helping a family, that's a comfort for me," she said.

Savannah received $4,000 toward her husband's funeral expenses and feels she received much more than just financial help.

"When I see the sheriff department, I see them in a different way now," said Savannah, who still receives calls from Dixon. "They call to see how we're doing and told us there's counseling available if we need it."

The gratitude Savannah has for the program has made her want to return the favor and spread the news of the program to other victims.

"I want to give my time, helping all those families in crisis. If they need me to hand out fliers, I'd do it for free," said Savannah, who has a message for other victims of crime. "There is help and there is hope."

┬ęThe Times (Shreveport, LA)
June 3, 2006