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Victims' rights supporters frustrated

By Staff
AS THEY SEE IT Proponents of crime victims' rights claim that while many laws are in place to protect the rights of defendants, there are few safeguards for victims. Photo illustration by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
By Marianne Todd/The Meridian Star
April 29, 2001
Advocates for crime victims' rights say although they have come a long way, more education and legislation are needed to balance the scales of justice.
Victims often complain about plea bargains and lack of notification when inmates are released from prison, said Chris Counts, chairman of Mississippians for Crime Victims' Rights.
Mississippi is one of more than 30 states that has ratified a Victims' Rights Amendment to its state constitution. The amendment passed with 93 percent of the vote in a statewide election in November 1998.
The Mississippi Legislature subsequently passed enabling legislation, the Mississippi Crime Victims' Bill of Rights.
Victims' rights advocates say the bill does not go far enough, and that local- and state-level officials do not comply with its mandates. They also point out that there are no penalties for non-compliance.
District attorneys, court and probation officers and corrections officials say they try their best, but the law's requirements are extensive. Full compliance, they argue, would require the hiring of additional staff on lean budgets. While many support the amendment and the enabling bill, they hold that it is an unfunded mandate.
Crime Victims' Rights Week
Mississippians for Crime Victims' Rights, made up of 278 members ranging from state and local leaders to victims and private citizens, ended a week-long Crime Victims' Rights Week Saturday.
The observance was highlighted Tuesday by a candlelight vigil honoring victims and survivors of violent crime and the people who fight for their rights.
Ginger Grissom Stevens of Wesley House Community Center is one of a number of local residents who care care victims of crime. She said more education is needed so victims can take a pro-active stand in demanding their rights.
What is the next step?
While district attorneys are obliged to report proposed plea bargains and listen to the views of victims, Counts said, they are ultimately responsible when making plea negotiations.
Nell Grissom, director of Wesley House Community Center, worked for two years with Counts' organization to get the Crime Victims' Bill of Rights passed. The bill became effective Jan. 1, 1999.
Stevens agrees.
For more information, call Mississippians for Crime Victims' Rights at (888) 343-0466 or Wesley House Community Center at 485-4736.
Marianne Todd is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call her at 693-1551, ext. 3236, or e-mail her at mtodd@themeridianstar.com.