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Editorial: Concerns about budget cuts warranted

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Indiana Lawyer Editorial

It’s no secret that the state of Indiana is trying to be smarter with its money during this roller-coaster ride sometimes called the great recession. It’s behaving just like every other state in the union and every citizen of the republic.

Lawyers are no exception; the practice of law ultimately is a business. So you’ll doubtless be familiar with the phrase “trimming the budget to the bone.”

Well, we believe the state of Indiana has hit bone with a budget cut instituted earlier this month. You can read about the change regarding victim notification in a story that starts on Page 3 of this issue of the newspaper.

Spending only $375,000 annually on something that the state had spent $1 million a year on sounds like a smart fiscal decision on paper.

In reality, victims and their lawyers are worried. While it is too early to determine the effectiveness of the Department of Correction's move to bring victim notifications in house rather than utilizing the previous system, it doesn’t appear to be off to a smooth start.

Previously, the state had contracted with a company called Appriss, which operated the Indiana Sex and Violent Offender Registry and Alert Notification Services. The company handled 10,000 monthly automated phone calls to victims who had asked to be notified of changes in their perpetrator’s status, and processed 2,500 new registrants per month. The former service also could make automated phone calls and send e-mails in multiple languages.

Now this service is being performed by the DOC through Microsoft’s Information Strategies. Phone calls are being made by three DOC employees during regular business hours, with support on nights and weekends by other DOC staffers. The DOC stresses that the service has the potential to be more personal as victims will be able to talk with a real person and ask questions, which would be a big improvement over an automated call or an e-mail. The DOC can make the phone calls in Spanish and has access to a translation service for other languages.

But the experiences of lawyers for victims who have registered with the system seeking notification about offenders tell another story.

One advocate called the DOC after receiving notice of the system change, only to get a message that the line was busy and to try calling later. The advocate did that and talked to a DOC employee who was “nice and polite” but lacked information to answer the advocate’s questions.

This lawyer also told our reporter that she has registered against seven offenders in Marion County. She had not received an immediate notification of their release, even though she was able to confirm on her own they had been released. Another lawyer who had also registered against an offender got an e-mail notification of the offender’s release, but didn’t get the requested phone call until three hours later.

This may sound like merely a bumpy start over something that has the potential to save the state $625,000, and that is a great deal of money, particularly when viewed through the lens of our current economic condition.

But this is truly a life and death situation, and the state is putting a price tag on the lives of victims with this move. In domestic violence and domestic battery cases, the potential for more bloodshed that could escalate into a lethal situation is at its highest when the perpetrator is released from jail.

The state must prove right now, not a month or six months from now, that this move will not only result in cost savings, but in a victim notification system that some of its most vulnerable citizens can depend upon.•
 

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