Fairness in the legal system, including in Victims’ Compensation, should be a subject of reflection on this coming Martin Luther King Day. For many, it will be a day to consider where our country stands on providing equal justice for all of our citizens. Mr. King paid the ultimate price for his beliefs. Because of his death, our country does pay more attention to whether our judicial system is fair to all involved. There is always more work to be done, but taking stock is beneficial. There is a new focus on criminal justice reform. As there should be. But amidst this debate, we should not lose sight of equal justice for victims of crime as well.
The Oklahoma District Attorneys run a program known as the Victims’ Compensation Fund. The intent behind the program is to help victims of violent crimes with some of the financial consequences of the crime – medical bills, lost wages, and that kind of thing. The program is currently funded by fees assessed on offenders. Most likely, another source of funds should be found to support this program as this funding probably will be affected by criminal justice reform.
The Victims’ Compensation Fund also needs to be reviewed for fairness. A recent review, by the program itself, found racial disparities —41 percent of applications for black homicide victims during that time were denied, compared to 27 percent for whites and a 33 percent denial rate for all races. Similar disparities exist for other crime victims as well. For adult black victims of sexual assault, the Victim’s Compensation program denial rate was 100 percent; 78 percent denial rate for American Indian applicants; and 54 percent denial rate for white victims.
For the program to be effective, it needs to be funded. For the program to be trusted, it needs to be fair. These racial disparities need to be addressed by the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council so that we can work towards the ideal of equal justice.
If you or a loved one has been a victim of a crime and you could use some help navigating the civil justice system, contact Koller Trial Law today.