SIKESTON - Through Saturday, area crime victims and survivors, victim service providers, criminal and juvenile officials and allied professionals, and community volunteers will again commemorate National Crime Victims' Rights Week.
"This this actually the 24th anniversary," said Taryn Merideth, Scott County victims' advocate.
Merideth said this year's theme, "Victims' Right: America's Values," is intended to help the public recognize that if they value equal rights and justice for all Americans, they must value crime victims' rights and services.
As always, the overall purpose is to both honor crime victims and educate citizens about crime victims' rights.
"A lot of people don't know that crime victims, just like criminal defendants, are afforded rights," said Merideth.
Among these: "They have the right to be informed of and present at all criminal justice proceedings involving the defendant," she said. "They also have the right to be present and heard at most of those same proceedings."
The right to reasonable protection from the defendant and the right to restitution from the defendant are also included as well as "a right to a speedy disposition to the case," Merideth said.
"The also have a right to be informed of the release or escape of the defendant," she added.
Area residents now can register with the Missouri Victims Automated Notification System, Merideth said. She explained this automated system will call the victim and keep calling to advise of the release of their perpetrator until the machine gets an answer with a correct PIN number response. The service is provided by the Missouri Office for Victims of Crime.
Merideth said she assists around 300 victims each year and close to 500 total counting "secondary victims," or family members also affected by the crime.
"I think victims' rights is an important consideration here when we deal with these offenders," said Roger Rutledge, district administrator for Probation and Parole. "I just can't stress enough how much we value victims' inputs in these matters here.
"Every victim has a right to attend and offer their opinions at parole hearings," he added. He described parole boards as being "very sensitive to their concerns and issues. ... The parole board actively listens and hears what the victims have to say."
Locally, Crime Victims' Rights Week will be observed with a ceremony planned for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston.
This local observance is a collaboration of SECC employees, the Mississippi County sheriff's and prosecutor's departments, victim advocates from Mississippi and Scott counties, area Probation and Parole officers, and officials from area cities and counties, the Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center and area criminal justice and law enforcement agencies as well as citizens.
The gathering provides area officials who work with victims the opportunity "to network and improve our services here," Merideth said, in addition to honoring victims and victim service providers.
Members of the public are encouraged to attend this free event and join in honoring not only the victims of crime, but also those who serve victims on a daily basis such as victims' advocates.
Merideth said over 30,000 laws to promote victims rights and services have been passed at the federal, state and local levels, and 33 states including Missouri have constitutional amendments that guarantee rights and services to victims.
This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the Crime Victims Fund established by the Victim of Crime Act of 1984 which, over the past two decades, has provided over $5.5 billion for victim assistance programs that offer a wide range of services to crime victims and victim compensation that helps victims cope with the financial impact of crime.
VOCA funding does not come from taxpayer dollars but rather from federal criminal fines, forfeited appearance bonds and special assessments on federal convictions.
For 20 years, the Crime Victims Fund that is administered by the Office for Victims of Crime within the U.S. Department of Justice has had a significant impact on providing quality victim services and assistance to victims to help them understand their rights and access available services.
"Nobody asks to be victimized by violence and, when a crime occurs, victims need to be aware that they have rights within our justice system and many services are available to help them cope with the victimization," said John W. Gillis, director of the OVC, in a recent press release. "When we are informed and aware of victim's rights and services, we are committed to shared values of justice for all and assistance and support for our family members, friend, co-workers and neighbors who are hurt by crime."