TRENTON, N.J. – With the governor’s signature this week, Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce’s bill (A3391/S498) increasing financial support for victims of crime was signed into law.
DeCroce and Richard Pompelio, a renowned crime victims’ lawyer and advocate, have been pushing the reform bill to correct the injustices in the state’s Victims of Crime Compensation Office.
“Since Rich’s son was murdered in 1989, I’ve been an advocate for victims of crime. I’ve worked closely with Rich and my late husband Alex to fight for the rights of victims in this state, and I’m proud of the work we’ve accomplished to date,” said DeCroce (R-Morris). “Now that this is law, more victims will find the help and compensation they deserve without affecting taxpayers.”
The compensation is funded by state criminal penalties and fines, prison commissary fees, payments under the Sexual Assault Treatment Fund, criminal restitution, and the Federal Victims of Crime Act.
“It’s probably one of the most important bills in the history of victims of crime in this state,” said Pompelio, who runs the New Jersey Crime Victims’ Law Center. “You have areas in the inner cities that have not been treated appropriately by the system. The Victims of Crime Compensation Office is a safety net for victims that have no other resources to help them pay for the costs of crime. Under this law, thousands of people will be able to receive free legal assistance and the compensation they need to help pay for things like funeral costs, bereavement assistance and child care.”
The state office of victim compensation has been under criticism for failing to achieve its objectives. The denial rate for compensation has consistently exceeded 50 percent since 2009.
“We needed to reform the victim compensation system in New Jersey,” said DeCroce. “This law rights many of the current wrongs and makes sure victims of crime and their family members find fairness, respect and compassion.”
By relying solely on state criminal penalties and fines, prison commissary fees, and other payments elicited from offenders, the bill increases the legal fees benefit from $3,000 to $10,000 so that more victims of crime may receive pro bono legal assistance without any burden to taxpayers. In addition, the bill updates the definition of a victim to match existing state law so that a person who suffers personal, physical, or psychological injury or death resulting from a crime may be awarded compensation. The bill also expands the list of crimes for which a victim can receive compensation to include simple assault, disorderly conduct and leaving the scene of an accident, and increases the time limit on filing a claim from three to five years.