Two leading victims rights advocates questioned the sincerity of the legislatively mandated Joint Committee on Victim’s Services at a meeting of the committee this afternoon at the Statehouse.
“I am deeply concerned that there will not be a comprehensive review of the experiences of homicide survivors in Ohio,” said Melinda Elkins Dawson, whose mother was murdered in Barberton in 1998. “It is my hope and suggestion that it is not too late to accomplish such.”
The Joint Legislative Study Committee on Victims’ Rights was mandated by HB 663 in December, 2014, implementing recommendation 19 of the Ohio Supreme Court’s Joint Task Force on the Administration of Ohio’s Death Penalty. The recommendation was to study the needs of homicide survivors in Ohio and the resources available to them.
“One of the most helpful and hopeful signals ever sent regarding support for murder victim families was the establishment of your committee,” said Rev. Jack Sullivan Jr., executive director of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation. Sullivan’s sister Jennifer was murdered in 1997 in Cleveland. Her murder remains unsolved. “I am amazed at the relatively few numbers of people who actually know you existed, how they may offer experiences, ideas and aspirations to help guide your work. During a meeting with Senator Coley earlier this year, I was impressed and delighted by his excitement over our proposal to study the services provided to murder victims families and to enhance the state’s efforts to serve their needs. I must also report that I was shocked to learn that this initiative was shut down.”
The two advocates also noted that this hearing took place during National Crime Victims Rights Week, which seeks to raise awareness of the rights and needs of crime victims. They also noted the supplemental appropriations bill introduced on Tuesday. “Especially in light of the Billions of dollars appropriated yesterday, we are puzzled that $30,000 could not be found to support the vital work of this Joint Committee.” said Sullivan.
The Joint Committee was appointed in May 2015 and had its first meeting in January 2016. In a conversation following that first meeting with committee chairman Senator Bill Coley, it became clear that the Joint Committee on Victim’s Rights had not developed a plan to comprehensively study the issue, and that the Committee intended to complete its work by the June recess. Ohioans to Stop Executions and Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation Victims Families for Reconciliation met with Senator Coley in February and offered to recruit the Kirwan Institute at Ohio State University to independently conduct two studies. The first was to be an assessment of all of the agencies in Ohio which provide victims services for homicide survivors, and the second was to give Ohio homicide survivors the opportunity to provide input to the process by sharing their own experiences to help the committee understand what their needs were, what was helpful and what was missing. Senator Coley reacted with enthusiasm, offering to find the money to cover the costs which would be incurred by the Kirwan Institute. Within weeks, Senator Coley indicated that no funds could be made available and any studies would be done internally. Yet, no evidence exists that any serious and comprehensive studies are being conducted.
Today’s Testimony: Melinda Elkins Dawson: http://archive.otse.org/melinda-elkins-dawson-testimony/
Today’s Testimony: Jack Sullivan Jr.: http://archive.otse.org/jack-sullivan-jr-testimony/
March 2015 Letter from Ohio Homicide Survivors requesting House and Senate leadership appoint the Joint Committee as mandated in HB 663 as passed in December, 2014: http://archive.otse.org/letter-ohio-homicide-survivors/
February 2016 Letter from Kirwan Institute offering assistance to produce a comprehensive study of available victim services and a second study allowing for broad input by Ohio Victim Survivors: http://archive.otse.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/VictimsServicesResearchKirwanInstitutetoColeyFebruary4th2016.pdf
February 2016 Letter from OTSE and MVFR to Joint Committee Chairman Senator Coley: http://archive.otse.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/OTSEMVFRLettertoColeyFeb42016.pdf