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Florida Crime Survivors Flood Capitol to Plead for Safety Reform for Victims, Offenders

April 2, 2019 - 3:00pm
The scene at the Capitol Tuesday morning
The scene at the Capitol Tuesday morning

Hundreds of diverse crime survivors from across the Sunshine State traveled to Florida’s Capitol Tuesday to advocate for policy changes that make communities safer and meet the needs of crime victims. 

Passionate participants included Parkland and Pulse mass-shooting survivors. 

As part of the 2nd annual “Survivors Speak” event, victims urged support for legislative changes to ensure others like themselves can access recovery services, Floridians with a past conviction can earn jobs, and public safety resources are better targeted. They were joined by elected officials and community leaders for a press conference in the Capitol, followed by visits with legislative leaders and public officials.

“The experiences and voices of crime survivors are critical to ensuring that public policies make communities safer and healthier,” said Robert Rooks, co-founder of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice and vice president of Alliance for Safety and Justice. “Florida survivors are raising their voices to ensure victims can access what they need to recover and public safety resources are targeted effectively to reduce harm and stop the cycle of crime. Their efforts are part of a movement of survivors across the state and nation, advancing shared safety solutions.”

One in three Floridians have been victimized in the past 10 years, according to a 2018 survey. Sixty-seven percent of Florida crime victims described their experience as traumatic, yet only 16 percent felt very supported by the justice system. 

Patricia Oliver, mother of Parkland victim Joaquin Oliver
Patricia Oliver, mother of Parkland victim Joaquin Oliver
Most victims do not get the kind of help someone might need to heal: one survey found two out of every three crime victims report receiving no help following the incident. Only 8 percent of all victims of violence receive direct assistance from a victim service agency, and this already low number drops to 4 percent when the crime is unreported -- which is the case for more than half of all violent crimes.

Florida’s victim compensation program can provide important support to victims of violence and their families. Yet, crime victims and their families can face roadblocks to accessing resources from the program, according to statistics. 

Crime survivors are supporting legislation that would improve access to victim compensation funds by extending the default time limits to report a crime from 72 hours to 5 days and to apply for the support from 1 to 5 years, respectively. The legislation would also eliminate restrictions that block victims and their families from accessing the support based on a victim’s past conviction.

“When I was victimized, I didn’t know what resources I had available to me, like so many other victims,” said Debbie Ortiz, a Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice member from Spring Hill. “That’s why survivors like myself are calling on the Legislature to remove obstacles to victim compensation. It is access to these resources that will do a whole lot to help survivors here in Florida receive the help they need.”

Many survivors are unaware of the victim compensation program or suffering too much from the immediate shock of the incident to apply. By the time victims are ready to apply, they may have missed deadlines to access the support that can help them recover from the grief and trauma. Children and families can also be denied victim compensation based on an old conviction record of the victim, typically entirely unrelated to their victimization. 

This is just one of over 500 legal restrictions that negatively impact Floridians living with a past conviction and their families. Other obstacles prevent them from turning their lives around by securing employment, taking care of themselves and their families, and contributing to the economy. Jobs in fields like barbering, cosmetology, construction, require state-issued occupational licenses that a past conviction blocks people from accessing. When people are prevented from earning jobs, their successful re-entry into society is undermined. 

Crime survivors support legislation that eliminates these restrictions so people can get back to work, which will reduce recidivism and create safer, more stable communities.

"To end the cycle of crime, we need to ensure that Floridians with a past conviction can achieve self-sufficiency and successfully exit the justice system better than when they went in,” said Agnes Furey, the Tallahassee chapter co-coordinator of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice. “Reintegration through gainful employment is a life-stabilizing opportunity that decreases a person’s likelihood to re-offend and creates safer communities.”

Crime survivors support legislation that would improve the probation system’s ability to hold people accountable for changing their behavior. It would encourage the use of non-prison graduated sanctions, like mandatory drug treatment or curfews to address minor technical violations -- a model that some court and probation officers are already employing. Costly prison resources could instead be utilized for serious issues and people who violate technical probation rules would face proportional consequences that actually rehabilitates and stops the cycle of crime.

The 2018 poll of Florida crime survivors found that 77 percent of crime survivors surveyed supported limits on using prison for people who may violate a technical rule of probation.

Survivors Speak Florida was hosted by Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a network with more than 25,000 crime survivors in states across the country, including chapters across Florida. Survivors Speak elevates the voices of diverse crime survivors to ensure their experiences shape public safety and justice policies.

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