A 'VINE' of help for victims of crimes

By Ed Brock

Georgia's crime victims now have a VINE that will swing them away from the danger of being injured again by the person who hurt them before.

VINE stands for the Victim Information and Notification Every Day System that will allow registered victims to receive 24-hour information on the person convicted and imprisoned for the crime against them. It's a program offered by the newly formed Office of Victim Services, formed by collaboration between the State Board of Pardons and Paroles and the Department of Corrections.

Essentially, the new office is a merger of the victim services offices from both agencies.

"Combining the offices will ensure that victims receive a seamless flow of service," said Shalandra Robertson, director of the new office. "The new Office of Victim Services will work tirelessly with victims to make sure that their voices are heard and that they are well informed."

Staff members at the Victim Services Office will inform the victims of the parole status of the offender with whom they have a case. It will also allow them to express, confidentially, any concerns they have with the case.

The new office will also register the victims in the VINE System.

"That is excellent," said Jennifer Bivins, director of the Southern Crescent Sexual Assault Center.

SCSAC provides victims assistance to women in several counties including Clayton and Henry who have been sexually assaulted. Many of the women they work with are supposed to be notified by the jail, the district attorney's office or solicitor general's office in their county when their offender is released. But sometimes the victim misses the call, Bivins said, leaving them vulnerable to be victimized again.

"You feel more empowered as a victim when you get information," Bivins said.

The VINE program also sounds great to Marjorie Lacy, director of the Haven House shelter for victims of spousal abuse in Henry County.

"With domestic violence it's a very big thing," Lacy said. "(The offenders) can be very angry when they get out of jail."

There have been cases where the abuser, soon after their release from incarceration, sought out and killed their victim.

Victims of all crimes are urged to contact the new Victim Services Office by calling 1-800-593-9474. The office's mailing address 2 M.L. King, Jr. Drive, SE, Suite 458, East Tower, Atlanta, Ga. 30334.