From: Eryn Redig Potthast
Kansas City, MO
I was saddened and deeply shocked to hear that Winona County had chosen to eliminate the Winona County Victim Services program. I worked in the Winona County court system for nearly 12 years with the Womenís Resource Center of Winona.
The state of Minnesota cut funding to many programs for this next grant cycle (including the Womenís Resource Center), and the majority of the Victim Services Program was a grant-funded position. But victims deserve to have their voices heard in the criminal justice process. Minnesota State Statute 611a gives victims that right. Twelve years ago when the Victim Services program was created it was done so because the County Attorney at that time saw a need to make sure victimsí voices were heard, and recognized that a specific staff person needed to be assigned to that.
It was extremely helpful to have one access point for victims in a system that can feel extremely overwhelming. I had a great deal of help from the prosecutors and support staff, but quickly came to realize that because of their extreme case loads I could not always reach the assigned prosecutor. The victim services program made sure someone could be reached at all times.
How do victims seek restitution and reparations, and face the multitude of court hearings only to find that nothing can truly ever change?
A prosecutor (although we have good ones in Winona County) cannot sit for hours and hours processing a crime or event with a victim because their important work building a case in court would never get done. Support staff (while very dedicated in Winona County) cannot do this either because of all the important pieces of a case that need to be filed in a timely manner. The victim services person is there so the victim has one person to turn to, one number to call that will be returned if not answered immediately, one point of contact in a very confusing system.
I do not mean to downplay or disrespect the role of the prosecutors and support staff that I had the extreme pleasure of working with.
The victim services person does much more than send out letters to victims notifying them of upcoming court cases. A victim services person takes the four-hour phone call when a victim simply needs to process what has happened. A victim services person drops everything when a victim needs to come in and talk right now. Victim services holds a victimís hand in court and sits with them so they donít have to be alone while going through a tragic event in their lives. A victim services person follows up on needs after a case is finished. Without the community, the administration, even the new County Attorney, standing up for this vital role, I fear that victimsí voices will be lost for victims.