CDCR representatives discuss incarceration, restitution

By Joe Orlando, CDCR Public Information Officer

Several California county officials gathered in Oroville recently for a conference on victims’ rights and how to best serve those who are sometimes forgotten.

Representing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) were several key members of the Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services (OVSRS), including Mike Young, Director of Victim Services.

“We’re here to guide you through this,” said Young.

Mike Young, OVSRS Director of Victim Services, speaks during a conference in Oroville.

Mike Young, OVSRS Director of Victim Services, speaks during a conference in Oroville.

Young spent the next half hour explaining what Victims’ Services is all about and the process involved when an inmate is sent to a CDCR facility.

The audience comprised victims’ services representatives from seven counties.

“We have Reception Centers. This is where offenders go first to be evaluated, assessed and housed,” Young explained.

“What’s the average stay?”asked Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey asked.

“Just depends how long it takes to classify them, usually between 90 and 120 days,” said Young.

Young also explained to the group the process of court-ordered increases in medical and elderly parole as well as new court-ordered parole consideration for non-violent, second-strike offenders.

“Second strikers have opportunities to parole if they’ve served 50 percent of their sentence,” Young said. “They can be referred to the parole board for release.”

Courtney Elmore, with OVSRS, discussed victim notification, and how victims may contact the office to request services.

“The form will ask the victim for their contact information, next of kin, parent or guardian if the victim is a minor. We work closely with the district attorney in that county to make sure the information we are getting is accurate about that individual, so we can properly notify them as we gather information about the inmate,” she said.

Elmore went on to explain how the Board of Parole Hearing (BPH) works, including who can and can’t attend a parole consideration hearing. Marsy’s Law, also known as the California Victims’ Bill of Rights Act of 2008, expanded the rights for the victims. The victim is to be treated with fairness and respect for his or her privacy, and dignity, and to be free from intimidation, harassment, and abuse, throughout the criminal or juvenile justice process. The victim also has the right to be reasonably protected from the defendant and persons acting on behalf of the defendant.

Elmore went on to explain videoconferencing and how it has made parole consideration hearings more bearable for some victims and their families if they would rather not physically attend.

Brochures on victims services were offered  during the conference.

Brochures on victims services were offered during the conference.

Transcripts of the hearing are also available to victims and/or their families.

In 2014, the OVSRS staff assisted approximately 1,830 victims. The office helped them attend the parole consideration hearings in person or by audio/video conference and made sure more than $66,000 was provided to help more than 370 victims and/or their families to attend suitability hearings.

Meg Webber, with OVSRS, explained restitution.

“Restitution is a guaranteed right, and it can range anywhere from$300 to $10,000 and is at the discretion of the court,” Webber said.

Restitution fines are the offender’s debt to society. These fines are how offenders pay back the state for the crime they committed. Restitution fines are paid to the Victim’s Compensation and Government Claims Board.

In 2014, a total of $17,546,676 was collected in victim restitution and fines from adults and juvenile offenders.

“Every prison has a trust office, so we know about money coming in to the inmate. Restitution is always paid first,” said Webber.

She explained how helpful the Franchise Tax Board has been in helping collect in excess of $22 million since they started working with OVSRS a few years ago. Once an inmate leaves prison, CDCR will refer the restitution debt to the California Franchise Tax Board. The victim then must make arrangements with the Franchise Tax Board to satisfy the direct order restitution.

“Is there an administrative fee attached?” someone asked.

Webber said, “CDCR keeps 10 percent of all restitution payments as instructed by the Penal Code to pay for the cost of collecting and distributing the payments. … But, voluntary payments made on behalf of inmates are exempt from the fee.”

Webber said she and her staff monitor all California counties for restitution issues. She said no county has yet to step forward and implement a restitution program similar to the one run by the state.

“I’m just looking forward to the day when all counties are on board so we can ensure victims of crimes will be compensated for their loss, even if it’s just a few hundred dollars,” she said.

CDCR’s OVSRS has committed to working with any counties who seek guidance in setting up restitution services. For more information, contact the Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services at 1-877-256-6877.