ANNAPOLIS – Some Maryland lawmakers and victim rights advocates want to consolidate now scattered services for crime victims into one Cabinet-level office.
Such services now are divided among the Office of Crime Control and Prevention, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and the Attorney General’s Office.
“Crime Control’s mission is to prevent crime,” said Russell P. Butler, an attorney and representative for a crime victims’ rights organization. “We need an organization where victims are the priority.”
A bill drafted for the Maryland General Assembly this session would create a new Cabinet-level office. The Stephanie Roper Committee and Foundation Inc., a victims’ rights group, pushed for the legislation.
Roper’s parents started the group following their daughter Stephanie’s murder in April 1982. The group advocates for crime victims and has made the creation of this office a top priority this legislative session.
Butler, a Roper Foundation representative, and other victims’ rights activists visited states with coordinated programs before submitting the proposal. States with a centralized victims’ office had more effective programs than those that included victim’s rights programs as a minor part of other large agencies, Butler said.
“You have a number of functions scattered all through state government,” Butler said. “It will benefit from consolidation.”
The bill was authored by the Task Force to Examine Crime Victims’ Rights Law in Maryland and is sponsored by Delegate Joseph F. Vallario Jr., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
“It ought to be an independent organization,” Vallario said.
Debate about creating the office centered on whether there would be any costs related to hiring additional staff. According to the task force plan, the staff at existing agencies working on crime victims’ programs will be moved to the new office.
But a Department of Budget and Management report said the new office would cost as much as much $1 million.
Members of the Crime Victims Task Force argued the same people who serve victims could continue their work in the new office, eliminating the need for more funding.
“It’s not finding new money,” said Roberta Roper, director of the Roper Foundation. “There are not major new costs.”
– 30 – CNS-1-11-02