Victim Funding in Some States May be Discriminatory
Each state has a fund that is reserved for use by families who have been victimized by crime and need help. The funds are meant to reimburse families for significant unexpected financial needs such as the funeral and burial costs of their loved ones. However, some have found out the hard way, the help is not free for the taking, and states seem to follow different guidelines for disbursement.
Seven states currently bar people with criminal records from receiving compensation. And, analyses of two states in particular – Florida and Ohio – show the bans mostly affect African American families.
“Nobody came and questioned or asked. It was just, ‘no,’” said Anthony Campbell, 43, who lives in Montgomery, Alabama. His father was murdered in Sarasota, Florida, in 2015. A review of Campbell’s father’s background showed a felony he committed thirty years prior. Campbell himself had never committed a crime. And, yet, they are restricted from receiving help.
Administrators of the funds must follow state law directing who can receive pay outs. Yet, critics of the system call the imbalance a consequence of a criminal justice system that is prone to racial discrimination. Studies of the justice system across the board indicate African Americans tend to serve harsher sentences than Caucasian offenders charged with the same crimes.
“People with money and power are treated differently in our justice system. They’re not policed the same way,” said David Singleton, a Cincinnati civil rights attorney and executive director of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center.
In Florida, the ban applies to anyone who has been convicted as an adult a felony, including burglary and aggravated assault. Roughly 30 percent of those who listed their race when applying for victim compensation between 2015 and 2016 were African American. However, African American applicants made up 61 percent of those denied for funding for having a criminal record.
In Ohio, compensation is denied to anyone who has been convicted of a felony in the past ten years as well as anyone suspected of certain felonies, even if they were never found guilty or committed an offense as a minor. In Ohio, 42 percent of victims who applied for reimbursement in 2016 listed their race as African American, but 61 percent of those turned away for a record were of the same race.
The funds in Florida and Ohio close out the year – year after year – with plenty of leftover cash in the account. Last year, Florida closed with a balance of $12 million, and Ohio with $15 million. “It’s in no way saying you are less of a victim,” insisted Matthew Kanai, chief of the crime victim services division for the Ohio state attorney general.
Tanya Coke’s sister was also murdered. As an African American woman, she wrote, “Access to the funds requires a police report, something many victims of color, already distrusting of police, are reluctant to file. The funds are often accessed through the state prosecutors’ office, another roadblock for women who, in domestic violence and other cases, may not want to testify against the perpetrator.” Her family spent years trying to navigate the system and get the support they needed.
Coke added, “The paperwork to receive reimbursement is daunting. After multiple rejections for repayment on mental health services, my husband and I mortgaged our home. A fundraiser was one of the few things that saved us.”