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UAlbany Aids in Building New York Crime Victims’ Legal Network

Online tool will allow crime victims to determine the type of help they need in civil legal matters

The new online legal network will allow individuals to determine the type of legal help they need and then connect them with resources to ensure their interests are represented.

ALBANY, N.Y. (November 17, 2015) -- The University at Albany is partnering with the New York State Office of Victim Services (OVS) to create a unique online tool that will connect crime victims with legal assistance in civil matters. OVS received $999,940 from the federal Office for Victims of Crime, part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs for the project, which aims to provide victims in New York legal guidance for dealing with issues such as housing and immigration cases, as well as family court cases involving custody, support and orders of protection.

The Crime Victims' Legal Network will allow individuals to determine the type of legal help they need and then connect them with resources to ensure their interests are represented.  In addition to OVS and UAlbany's Center for Human Services Research (CHSR), the Empire Justice Center and Pro Bono Net are partners on the project.

As a first step now underway, the Center -- part of UAlbany's School of Social Welfare -- is assessing existing legal services in upstate counties and on Long Island to determine where gaps exist. An advisory committee of crime victim advocates, researchers, law enforcement officials and other leaders from community-based organizations is shepherding that assessment work.

The Crime Victims' Legal Network is targeting individuals outside of New York City, as there are fewer civil legal services available in those 57 counties. While OVS funds a network of 226 crime victim assistance programs that serve individuals in every county of the state, fewer than 10 percent of those programs offer legal help with civil matters. 

"Victim assistance programs across New York State do a wonderful job in providing men, women and children with direct services, such as counseling, crisis intervention, access to compensation and advocacy in the criminal justices system, but there are far fewer civil legal services outside of New York City," OVS Director Elizabeth Cronin said. "This grant will allow us to expand our reach, especially to rural areas of the state. Our goal is to create a comprehensive, collaborative network to provide holistic legal assistance to better assess the needs of, and ultimately serve, victims of crime."

Crime victim advocates have consistently identified the dire need for civil legal services in housing, immigration and Family Court matters and a streamlined, easy way for victims to access help.

The lack of services, particularly in rural areas across the state, results in many individuals pursuing civil litigation without a lawyer. A recent study by the state Office of Court Administration found that roughly 2.3 million New Yorkers – many of them either low-income individuals or families – are involved in civil litigation without legal representation. 

"Our Center for Human Services Research will conduct an empirical analysis of crime statistics and civil legal services data, augmented with information collected from victims and service providers to determine the types of services that are needed and where they are needed," said Darrell P. Wheeler, Dean of UAlbany's School of Social Welfare and Vice Provost for Public Engagement. "I want to congratulate the Office of Victim Services, CHSR, as well as Empire Justice Center and Pro Bono Net for developing this critical resource for the most vulnerable individuals in New York."

The Office of Victim Services has a three-tiered mission to provide compensation to innocent victims of crime, fund direct services to crime victims through a network of community-based programs and to advocate for the rights of all innocent victims of crime. For more information about services offered by OVS, including eligibility guidelines and a list of victim assistance programs that provide direct help to crime victims across all 62 counties in New York, visit the agency’s website or call 1-800-247-8035.

The Crime Victims' Legal Network will be established as a result of work done by the New York State Office of Victim Services and its partner agencies, the Center for Human Services Research, the Empire Justice Center and Pro Bono Net, under Grant No. 2014-XV-BX-K009 awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime), Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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