From: Jay Rasmussen
Recently, the state cut funding to Winona County for the Victim Services Coordinator. This was a poor decision. However, itís not too late for county officials and elected leaders to step up and fight for this position. Itís difficult to quantitatively measure how much impact the victim services position has, because victims rarely get measured statistically. But, the value of giving all we can to victims is an ethical and moral obligation for our criminal justice system.
The Victim Services position is one that benefits our community immensely. I can tell you from my experience with the justice system that many times for victims, the system moves rather slowly. This is one position that has the sole purpose of putting the victim first. During my previous assignment as an investigator with the Winona Police Department, Iíve seen firsthand how the person in this position can guide and inspire victims. The Victim Services Coordinator works tirelessly to assure victims that they can be strong enough not only in the courtroom, but in understanding and recognizing that they still deserve to have an opportunity at living the life they desire. The Victim Services Coordinator has spent countless hours working for victims even beyond normal hours worked, solely for victims. The Coordinator also assists victims with writing victim impact statements which are ultimately read to the court. Many times, judges have granted more time to a defendant based on these statements.
There are many jobs bestowed upon the Victim Services Coordinator to ensure that the rights of victims are vigorously met. The elimination of this position will create havoc for victims. The plain and simple fact is that our prosecuting attorneys are already overworked. Many prosecutors are burning the candle at all hours of the night in order to prepare for a trial or just trying to catch up. I truly donít believe that adding to their plate, in this magnitude, is a justice to the victims of Winona, nor to the prosecutors. Justice for a prosecutor requires diligence beyond the victim. It involves understanding statements and evidence from witnesses, suspects, and police officers. Simply put, they are too busy to take on the task of navigating victims through the justice system.
Victim advocacy is nothing short of outstanding in this community. The Sexual Assault Interagency Council and Womenís Resource Center are a few examples. These agencies, police departments and sheriffís offices, and especially victims, rely on this position. Collaboration between the aforementioned agencies and the Victim Services Coordinator is integral in meeting the statutory rights and moral needs of our victims. The justice system has many positions looking out for the welfare of those convicted of crimes; shouldnít we have one position solely dedicated to ensuring the needs of victims are met? I encourage criminal justice leaders and citizens to stand up and tell our county board why this position should be retained.