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Recognizing Crime Victims' Rights

April 5, 2019

By Rachel Friederich

DOC Communications

Seven people at a table

Department of Corrections Victim Services Staff and members of the Indeterminate Sentence Review Board greet the public at a past Crime Victims Rights Week event. (Photo Courtesy of Department of Corrections)

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INFOGRAPHIC: Crime Victims Rights – Infographic Transcript

TUMWATER – Department of Corrections’ Victim Services Program Manager Sheila Lewallen has worked with hundreds of crime victims over her 40-year career in advocacy.

She’s helped victims and survivors navigate through the legal system that’s often long, laborious and convoluted. She’s helped families work though trauma from violent crimes: Domestic assault. Rape. Homicide.

Hearing stories of pain and anguish every day is one of the toughest aspects of a victim liaison’s job, according to Lewallen. The job is easier when the victims are able to learn resiliency skills to help overcome their trauma.

“In this business, you get to see the worst things that humans do to each other,” Lewallen said. “But I also get to know all the advocates in the counties who do the best work and who care the most. I get to witness the power of them (victims) overcoming things and doing positive things, despite what happened to them.”

Learning about victimization and its impact on individuals, family and the community is one of the main objectives of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW). NCVRW is an annual commemoration that promotes victims’ rights (pdf) and services. This year’s NCVRW is April 7-13. It began in 1982 as a result of a national initiative to provide for victims of crimes under President Ronald Reagan’s Task Force on Victims of Crime. The Office for Victims of Crime sponsors the event. It encourages victim rights organizations across the country to hold local awareness events.

Washington State Department of Corrections will be part of a NCVRW event Friday, April 12, 2019 at the Department of Labor and Industries in Tumwater. Speakers include Felice Davis, associate superintendent of Washington Corrections Center for Women; Bev Emory past executive director of the state’s Office of Crime Victims Advocacy; and Maddie Graves-Wilson, executive director of GH Beyond Survival advocacy center of Grays Harbor County. Government and non-profit organizations with victim services programs will also have information booths. The speaker portion run from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., but the information tables will be open from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

The theme for the 2019 event is “Honoring Our Past. Creating Hope for the Future.” According to the NCVRW official website, it “celebrates the progress made by those before us as we look to a future of crime victim services that is even more inclusive, accessible and trauma-informed.”

DOC’s Victim Services Program has a history of incorporating those values.

History of DOC Victim Services Program

State legislation enacted in 1982, as a result of a violent Snohomish County crime, triggered the formation of the agency’s victim services program.

In 1974, a man named Charles Rodman Campbell sexually assaulted a woman in Everett, Wash. A year later, the woman Campbell had assaulted, along with her neighbor, testified against him. Authorities sentenced Campbell to prison.

In 1982, officials put Campbell on work release in Everett, located five miles from the woman’s home. The woman was not notified of Campbell’s release. In April of that year, Campbell broke into the woman’s home. He beat and sexually assaulted her before cutting her throat. The woman died from her injuries. Authorities also found the woman’s child as well as her neighbor killed in the same fashion. Jurors found Campbell guilty of three counts of aggravated first degree murder.

The shock from the murders and the fact that no one had notified the woman of Campbell’s release put pressure on legislators and policymakers to develop a plan to let victims know when their perpetrators would return to the community.

In 1983, state legislators enacted laws guaranteeing victims’ rights, which includes release notifications. The department began providing release notification services to registered victims, witnesses, and family members of homicide and child victims and was the first Corrections department in the nation to do so.

This chain of events shaped the department’s victim services program, according the department’s previous victims services manager, Steve Eckstrom, who retired in January 2019.

He said getting input from victims is essential to the department’s mission of improving public safety and vision of working together for safe communities. Eckstrom says involving victims in the criminal justice system can help prevent new crimes.

“The vision suggests we work together with everyone who has a stake in safe communities,” Eckstrom said. “Surely this includes people who have been victimized, sometimes repeatedly, and want more than anything to be safe from future harm. Often, they’re very willing to share their knowledge of what led to their own victimization to help corrections staff shape an effective reentry and supervision plan.”

Services Offered

Today, the victim services program offers a variety of tools and resources.

Advanced notification allows victims notice of when an incarcerated person moves through the prison system and when they are released. Victims, their family members, witnesses, and other survivors of crime may sign up to partake in the program. As of February 28, 2019, a total of 31,438 individuals had enrolled for notifications.

Besides notifications, other types of services offered include safety planning, facilitated communication and an accountability letter bank.

The department has six community victim liaisons to help victims come up with a personal safety plan. Liaisons are advocates and help victims figure out ways to keep themselves safe if they’re concerned their perpetrators may try to harm them again after they leave prison. This can involve “wrap-around” meetings, which brings victims together with corrections staff for support. They review an inmate’s release plan and answer questions when developing a safety plan. It also gives a chance for victims to let staff know of any potential “red flags” about an inmate’s behavior.

Facilitated communication can involve victim-offender dialogue. It’s a one-time facilitated meeting with the incarcerated person and their victim. The dialogue gives the inmate an opportunity to verbally express remorse for their crime, or answer any questions a victim might have that may not have been addressed in court. The other form of facilitated dialogue is through accountability letters. Like the dialogue, it may allow inmates to express responsibility for their crime, answer questions, or explain steps they’ve taken to change themselves for the better.

Creating Hope for the Future

Lewallen has seen victim advocacy evolve over the years. She’s played a key part in the history of victim advocacy throughout her career by helping organizations set standards in responding to victims’ needs.

One of her early jobs was working at a domestic violence shelter in Olympia, which is now known as SafePlace. She helped develop a book to help refer violence survivor clients to community resources that encompass housing, medical services, child care and food assistance.

Lewallen then worked at the Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office and took an instrumental role in developing victim advocacy program procedures. Victim advocacy programs were still very new at the county level, Lewallen recalled.

“I was given a box of suggested materials that could be done and I was waiting for someone to come and tell me what to do and then, at some point, I realized no one was coming,” Lewallen said. “I had to figure out what worked and what didn’t work.”

From there, Lewallen spent nine years working as a community victim liaison for the Department of Corrections. In 2014, she moved into a position providing treatment of people convicted of sex offenses who had just released from prison. From 2015 to 2017, she served as a victim liaison to the state’s Indeterminate Sentence Review Board. In January 2019, she became the department’s victim services program manager.

Lewallen says moving forward, she wants to develop more resources for the department to use for victim response. She’d like to expand opportunities for all department staff to receive training on domestic violence awareness. Lewallen also wants to offer more resources for self-care to community victim liaisons and other employees whose jobs involve exposure to people who experience trauma.

“I learned pretty early in my career everyone was there for the women we served, but were not always there for each other,” Lewallen said. “People we work with could be having a crisis and it could be overlooked. It was kind of this attitude of ‘Get it together and do what you have to do.’ I want to encourage people to take care of each other and make sure we’re taking care of ourselves.”