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Victim Witness Assistance Center celebrates 40 years 

In recognition of victim’s rights awareness month and the SLO County’s Victim Witness Assistance Center’s 40th anniversary, District Attorney Dan Dow held a rally on April 12, renaming the center in honor of former SLO County DA Christopher Money.

Money paved the way in 1977 to create the first assistance center of its kind in California. Before that, many crime victims had little to no resources available to them.

In the ’70s, the California Council of Criminal Justice identified victim and witness assistance as one of its top program priorities. But it wasn’t until 1982 that voters approved Proposition 8, the California Victim’s Bill of Rights—a law that restricted the rights of convicts and extended the rights of victims. In 1983, the California Legislature established a comprehensive victim assistance center in each county in the state. SLO County already had one.

Locally, the center aids victims with cases, court support, crisis and emergency services, restitution assistance, property return, and criminal justice system information—to name a few. Diana McPartlan, the center’s director, said it also provides services for victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault.

“Right now we see about a little over 800 cases a year of domestic violence and about 150 cases of sexual assault a year,” she said.

During the rally, domestic abuse survivor Layne Davis spoke about the help she received from the center.

After 12 years of suffering physical abuse from her ex-husband, Davis decided she needed to find a way out.

“The Victim Witness Assistance program, along with my assigned advocate, were instrumental in helping not only my recovery from the violent act I’ve been a victim of, but in helping me understand and navigate the complex and, at times, confusing criminal justice system,” she said.

In 2016, the center helped more than 9,000 victims.

McPartlan said she is anticipating a larger number of victims reaching out to the state’s centers when Proposition 57 comes into play later this year.

The proposition, passed by 64 percent of voters in 2016, increases parole and good behavior opportunities for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes. Proposition 57 is a continued response to the state’s initiative to reduce its prison population numbers in 2009.

The most controversial detail of the proposition is governing who is eligible for early parole. In a proposal debuted in January, Gov. Jerry Brown excluded sex offenders from early parole—whether their crimes were deemed violent or not.

McPartlan said this new proposition makes it even more important that victims understand their rights, such as ensuring that victims are aware of Marsy’s Law. Passed in 2008, it mandates courts to consider the safety of victims and families when setting bail and release conditions.

“Otherwise victims were in the dark before and they didn’t really know what was going on in their case, and they didn’t know what the status of the defendant was,” she said.

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