Alabama Launches Landmark Victims' Notification System

MONTGOMERY, AL.- Alabama crime victims will now have better access to information about the offenders who harmed them or their loved ones, as an innovative electronic notification system was unveiled today at the State Capitol. Members of the Task Force have been developing “AlabamaCAN” (the Alabama Crime Victim Automated Notification system) demonstrated the public website at hhtp://victims.alabama.gov, which is just on element of the project that maximizes today’s technology. With 1 out of ever 4 citizens being a victim of crime in their lifetime, AlabamaCAN will be a valuable tool.

 

In 2011, the Legislature approved a bill sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward that outlined the requirements of the new notification system, and it established an Implementation Task Force that eventually included 8 state agencies and 2 crime victim advocates. Considered by many stakeholders to be the most significant crime victims’ legislation to pass in 20 years, the 2011 law primarily addresses how notice will be provided for upcoming parole/pardon hearings. But AlabamaCAN may one day extend further to provide notice at additional points in the criminal justice system. 

 

Since 1984, the Board of Pardons and Paroles has been required to locate victims of certain violent crimes (and/or immediate family members), and send notices of upcoming hearings via certified USPS mail, return-receipt requested. As a result, victims have frequently appeared at hearings and voiced their concerns about an offender’s possible release or communicated their thoughts to the Board in writing.

 

But the 1984 law had its limitations. For instance, the first effort to locate a victim often occurred 5,10 or 15 years after a violent crime, when many names/addresses have changed. Therefore, numerous crime victims were not receiving notice, despite the Parole Board’s due diligence to locate the. And the 1984 law only required notice for the victim who was harmed (or the next of kin in homicide), while violent crime often has a vast ripple-effect that touches many family members and friends. Each year, more then 6,000 parole hearings are held in Alabama.

 

The 2011 law creates a more efficient system which is available to additional victims and members of the public. Plus, probation officers will assist in capturing victim’s contact information much earlier in certain cases, and will enter data in AlabamaCAN when defendants are sentences. And, using the public website, victims are encouraged to keep their information up-to-date and choose how they want to be notified about hearing, as notice can now be delivered via email, text message or automated phone calls (but victims named in an indictment or next of kin in homicide still receive notice via USPS mail). Addresses can also be updated using driver’s license info, if the victim selects that feature. Or a victim may decide to “opt out” and not be notified of any future hearings.

With the assistance of a federal grant, the following state agencies have served on the Task Force developing the AlabamaCAN system: the Board of Pardons and Paroles, District Attorneys’ Association, Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center, Administrative Office of the Courts, Department of Corrections, Attorney General’s Office, Alabama Crime Victims Compensation, and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. Additionally, the Task Force included crime victim advocates Darlene Hutchinson Biehl and Wanda Jones Miller, who were appointed by Attorney General Luther Strange.

 

Victims or others interested in more information on this revolutionary, user-friendly system can contact the Board of Pardons and Paroles at 334-353-7771 or visit http://victims.alabama.gov.

 

WHAT PUBLIC OFFICIALS & STAKEHOLDERS ARE SAYING:

 

Attorney General Luther Strange: AlabamaCAN will move victim notification forward by empowering victims with the knowledge and opportunity to access inmate information 24/7 and to ensure that their voices may be heard at any parole hearing for the inmate who harmed them or their loved ones, This is one more way that Alabama is honoring the rights of all victims. I want to thank the members of the Task Force for their service in this important project.”

 

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore: “I’m pleased the Alabama Administrative Office of Courts could play a role in the creation of this innovation program, which capitalizes on advancements in technology to more efficiently protect victim’s right to know and to remain involved in the parole hearing process.”

 

Sen. Cam Ward, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee: “Protecting the rights of victims should always be the top priority of lawmakers, I am proud to have worked with victims’ advocates to pass this bill which will ensure that the victims of violence receive proper notification on the status of criminals who commit these terrible crimes.”

 

Rep. Paul DeMarco, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee:  “Lawmakers must always put victims first. We must continue to work to advocate the protection and needs of victims and their families in Alabama. I have been proud to support this innovative notification system in the Legislature and look forward to how it will benefit our great state and its citizens for years to come. “

 

Robert Longshore, member of the Board of Pardons and Paroles: “Today serves as an example of what can happen when criminal justice stakeholders collaborate on an idea and keep working persistently to achieve a goal each believes will move Alabama forward. With the launch of AlabamaCAN, we have made Alabama an example to other states in the area of victim notification.”

 

Barry Matson, deputy director of the Alabama District Attorneys’ Association: “This landmark project is solid proof that groups and agencies with diverse missions can come together for the common good of the State of Alabama and victims of crime to create and implement a cutting-edge and cost-effective program that will benefit Alabama for generations. This is good for victims and last enforcement and all of Alabama, It just makes sense.”

 

Department of Corrections Commissioner Kim Thomas: “As last enforcement professionals, public safety is our top priority, and that includes recognizing victims’ rights and keeping victims informed. As Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections, I am pleased to support the groundbreaking resource for victims.”

 

Darlene Hutchinson Biehl, crime advocate appointed to the Task Force: “When a victim’s life has been shattered by violent crime, they experience so many emotions. The trauma, anguish and confusion can be so overwhelming, and they are often desperate for public officials to come along side of them and stand in the gap for them. The AlabamaCAN system is the perfect example of that occurring. Not only have public officials been valuable partners in developing this system, but we’ve built in many safety nets in hopes that victims’ participation in the criminal justice system to hold offenders accountable for their actions. It is truly a great day for Alabama.”

 

Wanda Jones Miller, Crime advocate appointed to the Task Force: “This important law enables victims of crime to feel secure having the information regarding their offender a mouse click away. At the times when information is important, whether it be at midnight or a holiday, a victim can obtain the knowledge they need to make them feel safe and secure. For victims of crime, this is priceless legislation.”

 

Miriam Shehane, founder of VOCAL and commissioner for the Alabama Crime Victims Compensation Commission: “In 1984, crime victims worked tirelessly to get legislation passed to inform them of when their offenders are being considered for parole. Now, 30 years later, changes are being made on how these notifications are sent. Victim advocates have worked closely with Parole Board to ensure victims will have the right to select the mode of notification that is best for them. This is exciting news. The Parole Board is to be commended fort asking all precautions that the rights for crime victims have not been jeopardized.”

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