“We want to come together as a team and really put victims’ rights first,” said Lael Hill, spokesperson for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). “We want to offer services, so they have representation.”
The coalition, founded by Hill, is made up of victim advocates, county prosecutors, private attorneys, the Indiana Department of Correction, and other groups.
Under current law, in certain circumstances judges can modify an offender’s sentence without notice, sometimes leaving victims with no warning the offender is getting out.
“It actually says that in our statute that victims’ rights will be upheld unless it conflicts with the constitutional rights of the offender,” said Hill.
Hill said the coalition would be pushing the state to require victims get at least 10 days notice before an offender is released.
"We need to establish a better system between communicating with the courts and the Department of Correction and kindly ask the courts to give 10 days’ notice before releasing the offender, which is really important because victims need to feel safe,” said Hill. “They need to consult with their social supports, consult with their attorney. They need to look at possible protective orders and really plan ahead."
The coalition hopes to hire a staff attorney and provide legal assistance and resources to the victim, as well as educate police and prosecutors about victims’ rights.
“Do you see any posters that say hey as a crime victim you have the right to be present at a sentencing hearing?” said Alex Beeman, an Indianapolis civil rights attorney and a member of the coalition. “I've never seen one. I think it's simple as educating many of the victims.”
Victims said many victims are in the dark about offender notification as well as their right to get justice.
“Often victims don’t know they can apply for compensation from state government, and they don’t know they can file a separate lawsuit from the crime and get compensation,” said Beeman.
The Governor signed legislation that requires the Indiana Department of Correction to notify victims as soon as possible if an offender’s release date changes.
The victim notification law goes into effect July 1, but coalition members say the state could do much more to help victims.