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DA's office gets grant for victims assistance

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

The Clayton County District Attorney's Office received a grant, again this year, to support the Victims Witness Assistance arm of the office.

The national grant, from the Office for Victims of Crimes, pays for three of the district attorney's eight, full-time, victim-assistance positions. The Victim of Crime Act grant serves, District Attorney Jewel Scott said, to support some of the most vital services provided by the office, especially since the county stopped funding four positions last year.

"Victims Witness Assistance is so crucial," Scott said, "because they're like the extended arm from the DA's office into the community. They're invaluable, this arm of the office. We could not exist without them."

That division of the district attorney's office walks victims and witnesses through the court system, explaining the process to them, literally and figuratively, holding their hands.

"We do a lot of hand-holding, because crime is so traumatic," Scott said. "[Victims and victims' families] come in very broken. There's a lot of bitterness, and a lot of hurt, and we need semi-professional counselors talking to victims."

While the main business of the district attorney's office is prosecution, the members of Victims Witness Assistance compliment the office by taking on the emotional burden of the cases. When the mother of a murdered boy runs crying from the courtroom, the lawyers remain seated, dealing with the defense attorneys, the judge, and the details of the case. It's the Victims Witness Assistance workers who follow the crying woman, carrying tissues.

The division of the district attorney's office also works to reach out into the community, working with school children on issues of bullying, gangs, domestic violence and cooperating with police.

They work, Scott said, to keep in touch with victims and witnesses. They have annually gone into the county's schools and to community events to preach preventative messages. They adopt a family for Christmas and Thanksgiving, so the office can provide a holiday meal, or give children presents.

In that outreach capacity, attempting to improve the community, rather than merely respond to crime, the program works to define the district attorney's office under Scott. "This is what we do," she said. "This is my mandate. There are people that have to be punished, yes. But we also have a duty to stop, I think we have a duty to stop the increase in crime, work toward making Clayton County a safer community, and stop our young people from going down this path toward gangs and crime."

Wilbert Jordan, pastor of Faith In Christ Mission Outreach Center, said he became keenly aware of Scott's idea of preventive work in 2006, when she helped him launch the Boys to Men Mentoring organization. "She sees the outcome when [boys] reach her level," Jordan said, "so, what she's trying to do is prevent them from reaching the criminal justice system."

The mentoring program pairs men and boys on a monthly basis, allowing the boys, who don't have fathers active in their lives, to learn from and spend time with successful, well-adjusted, adult men.

According to Jordan, an alarming number of children in the county do not have fathers in the home, and are, statistically, three times more likely to end up in jail. "We're trying to reverse the curse by letting them see positive role models," the pastor and program director said. "Jewel Scott was one of the original people that came with us, in order to do that."