DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Just as people zone in on Social Security when they reach their 60s, one state official believes victims of crime will one day automatically think about the Maine Crime Victims’ Compensation Program.
Deborah Rice, director of the Maine Crime Victims’ Compensation Program, told participants at a panel discussion Wednesday in Dover-Foxcroft that the program provides innocent victims reimbursement for crime-related expenses. The funds for the Maine program are provided solely by criminals.
Rice was among a panel of speakers Wednesday during a commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Victims of Crime Act. The event was sponsored by Womancare, Rape Response and Piscataquis County’s victim witness advocate.
“There are more than 33 million victims of crime each year [in the country]; and we know all too well, many of them still suffer emotional, physical, psychological and financial harm as a result of crime,” Art Jette, Womancare’s community relations coordinator, said.
The Victims of Crime Act provides these victims help and education about the justice system, updates on court proceedings, and allows for their voices to be heard in the courtroom.
“It has had a significant impact; it has made a difference,” R. Christopher Almy, Piscataquis County district attorney, said of the victims’ comments made during courtroom proceedings. From his experience, he said judges have reacted quite strongly to these statements.
Innocent victims of violent crimes are eligible for reimbursement for crime-related expenses, such as medical charges, counseling services, lost wages and funeral expenses, Rice said. Victims need only complete an application and return it to the victims’ compensation board for verification. Decisions are made within three to five months.
The speakers, who also included G. Steven Rowe, former attorney general, and Lois Reckitt, president of the National Coalition of Domestic Violence, portrayed a stark contrast Wednesday between the response provided to crime victims of today and those before 1984.
Today, a mother whose child was murdered, a woman who was battered by her lover, and a son whose father was killed by a drunken driver all have something more in common than being victims of crime. Thanks to the act, these people have a network of community support that never existed 25 years ago.