State lawmakers from Long Island will introduce bills to recognize Survivors of Homicide Victims Awareness Month and adopt laws that advocates say will help victims’ families to cope with their losses.
Legislators were joined by victims’ rights groups and grieving survivors outside the county criminal court building in Riverside this morning to advocate for the awareness month and other measures.
“Through an awareness month, policymakers and the public can be educated on the impact homicide has on the family and the community,” said Jennifer Harrison, the founder of the Victims Rights NY Political Action Committee, an organization that has been vocally opposed to criminal justice reform.
Multiple bills are and will be proposed in the 2022 legislative session by Sen. Anthony Palumbo, Sen. Alexis Weik and Assemblyman Fred Theile in an agenda that Palumbo said will support the creation of a “victim’s bill of rights.”
“The situation for the past few years in the State of New York has been primarily a focus on criminals rights, we need to bring the focus back to victims,” Palumbo said during a press conference Thursday with victim’s advocates in front of the Arthur M. Cromarty Criminal Court Complex in Riverside.
A crime victim’s bill of rights actually already exists and a list is published by the New York Attorney General’s Office. The rights include notification of criminal proceedings, filing for victim compensation, requesting restitution and freedom from intimidation, threats or harassment from people connected to a case, among others.
One bill, S7412, proposed by Weik and Theile, would require notice be given to a victim or their representative when an inmate is being discharged or released, and require the parole board to consider the victim’s impact statement in its decision.
The option to be notified when an offender’s custody status changes is currently available to victims, their families and other interested persons through the New York Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE) website or by calling 1-888-846-3469. Telephone and email notifications are also available.
“S7412 is going to allow notification for parents and families to know that a murderer has been allowed out. But before that they’re going to have to get input from the family,” said Barbara Connelly, the cofounder of Parents and Other Survivors of Murder Victims, whose son was murdered when he was 15 in 1979. “Families have a right to be heard, to be informed and to be present. I had none of that when the murderer of my son went loose.”
Palumbo said the police departments are under-resourced when it comes to meeting the needs of victims and their families. He said a law in the package will allow the implementation of victim’s advocate positions for homicide victims’ families in police departments.
“We need someone like these individuals behind me with the training and expertise and experience to comfort and give updates,” Palumbo said, referring to the victims’ rights advocates. “And they should be assigned in every precinct in the event that there’s a homicide to keep the victims in the loop.”
Palumbo said he will introduce the bill to designate the month in the Senate, and Assemblyman Joe DeStefano (R-Medford) will introduce the bill in the Assembly. The month runs from Nov. 20 to Dec. 20 in other states.
“I’m hopeful and I expect that there will be bipartisan support to pass this important resolution,” Palumbo said.
Theile also brought up S5175, or Lorraine’s Law, which would increase the available amount of time between violent offense parole hearings from two years to five years to reduce the amount of times a victims’ family has to relive the victim’s death. The legislation has been sponsored by Theile and former Senator Ken LaValle for the past decade, but was unable to pass in the Assembly. Theile and Palumbo, who was elected to succeed LaValle, have introduced it again since Palumbo took office. The bill is in committee in both chambers.
Palumbo said he would introduce a bill to make legal a lifetime order of protection, which prohibits people convicted of certain felony offenses to be around or communicate with the victim of that crime.
“[The felon] got the opportunity to move forward, the deceased’s family member never will. So they should not be able to move into the same community as the victim next door, to see them at the grocery store and not have to avoid them,” Palumbo said.
Other legislation on the agenda include the option to give a statement at a parole hearing virtually, creating a registry for repeat violent offenders and changing requirements for victims advocates employment to be people with life experiences.
“These are issues that are not necessarily opposed to the criminal justice reforms or criminal rights necessarily, they can run together and they’re just as important, if not more significant, for those families that have had their lives destroyed by the violent acts of someone else,“ Palumbo said.
Survivors of homicide victims and leaders of victims advocate groups spoke in favor of the measures during the press conference.
“These reforms will not only help with the plight of innocent victims, but will also help restore public safety,” Harrison said.
Madeline Brame, the chairwoman of the Facebook group the Victims Rights Reform Council, told the story of her son, Sgt. Hason Correa, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Afghanistan and who was murdered in Harlem and left behind a wife and three children.
“The victims have been victimized and re-traumatized over and over and over again,” she said. “We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. And we’re here today to propose these bills, these pieces of legislation, that will help strengthen and protect the rights of victims of violent crime.”
Group members and legislators were also outspoken against criminal justice reforms enacted in New York the past few years, including bail reform and parole reform.
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