Notification service gives location of offenders
SIKESTON -- For the past few years, an automated notification service has aided in telling thousands of Missouri victims the whereabouts of their offenders, reassuring their safety and helping them feel at ease.
"It's a very empowering system," noted Kay Crockett, Victim Services coordinator in Jefferson City. "Victims can call in 24 hours, seven days a week and find out exactly where their offender is."
In 1996, the Missouri Department of Corrections' Office of Victim Services created Victim Information Notification Everyday (VINE), an automated victim notification system with a database containing more than 27,000 victims. VINE provides registered victims toll free access to offender information seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
"Anytime we get information about a victim from the prosecuting attorney's office, we notify the victims of the availability of VINE," said Tim Kniest, public information officer for the Missouri Department of Corrections. "In order to use VINE, the victims must first register."
To register, victims must have a touch-tone telephone, their victim number and inmate number, which is supplied by the Office of Victim Services.
Registered victims will automatically receive computer-generated telephone calls when any of the following occur: release from custody is scheduled, a parole eligibility hearing is scheduled, the offender is transferred from one facility to another, the offender dies while in the Department of Corrections' custody or if the offender escapes (and the offender is returned).
Crockett said one of the best examples of the success of VINE is a 10-year-old she has worked with for two years who was a victim of sexual and physical abuse by his stepfather.
"Last October, right before Thanksgiving, his mother called and told me he'd been having problems. He was afraid his offender was getting out of prison," Crockett recalled.
She continued: "I talked to her about teaching him how to use VINE. She said hadn't thought about him using the system and thought it was a great idea to teach him."
By showing the child how to use VINE, he's able to check whenever he wants, Crockett said. For instance, if he wakes up at 1 a.m. all he has to do is call the 800 number for VINE and find out his offender's still in custody, she explained.
"It's incredibly reassuring for him to call and find out his offender is in Missouri Eastern Correctional Center or wherever," Crockett said.
Occasionally victims will move and not notify the Office of Victim Services, which makes it difficult for the office to keep victims updated on the status of their offender, Kniest said.
According to a 2002 DOC Primer, the Office of Victims' Services coordinates services to victims of crimes. During the first nine months of 2000, staff accompanied 58 victims to parole hearings, talked to 4,897 victims on the telephone and sent 25,684 letters notifying victims of parole hearings, hearing results and releases to the community.
"It's not required for us to notify victims when the offenders are transferred to another facility, but most victims want to know. We don't have the staff or resources to notify every victim so with VINE, as soon as the inmate is booked, it's in the VINE system and available to the victims," Crockett said.
Missouri Department of Public Safety has a similar automated information and notification service called Missouri Victim Automated Notification System, or MOVANS. It, too, is available 24 hours, seven days a week.
Victims love it, and they really like the aspect of the system, Crockett said. As soon as changes are in the computer system, it's conveyed to VINE, she said.
"So often victims feel left out of the decision-making choice," Kniest pointed out. "They're there when the offender is charged with the crime and the victim may have some input in the trial -- if they're a witness -- but once the offender's incarcerated, they don't feel as involved. This is a good way for the victim to know and understand what's going on, and I think it provides them with a peace of mind."
For more information on automated victim notification services, call 573-526-6516 for VINE or 1-866-566-8267 for MOVANS.