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Public Statements

Scott Campbell, Stephanie Roper, Wendy Preston, Louarna Gillis, and Nila Lynn Crim Victims' Rights Act

Location: Washington DC


Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I rise today as a proud cosponsor of this victims' rights legislation, which has special significance for my State and my hometown. On December 6, 1993, Mary Byron was murdered in Louisville on her 21st birthday as she left her place of work. Mary was killed by her ex-boyfriend who, unknown to Mary, had recently been released from the county jail where he had been held since being arrested for stalking, assaulting, and raping Mary. The Byron family had been assured that they would be notified when Mary's attacker was released from custody. But unfortunately, they were not.

Following this tragedy, the Louisville metro criminal justice community quickly realized that victims of violent crime needed a better system of notification when offenders are arrested, released, or scheduled to appear in court. The community committed itself to solving this critical problem and ensuring victims' safety. In December 1994, one year after Mary Byron's death, Jefferson County, KY introduced the Nation's first automated victim notification service.

That system is called VINE, which stands for Victim Information and Notification Everyday. This program assures crime victims access to rapid, automated notification by telephone, pager, or e-mail when an offender's status changes. The system also allows victims to call 24-hours a day to obtain the current status of an offender-giving victims peace of mind and a sense of control over their lives.

What began in Louisville 9 years ago has now spread to more than 1,400 communities in 36 States. In fact, in 19 States every county jail and State prison is connected to the VINE network. Each of these facilities and communities are connected through the VINE Communications Center located in Louisville. This central hub collects data from and manages automated interfaces among 57 percent of the Nation's county and State correctional facilities, and monitors 14 million offender transactions each month. Within moments of an offender's status change, such as escape, transfer, or release, high-speed notification is activated to reach out and provide information to victims.

The VINE Communications Center provides a staff of live operators 24-hours a day to assist victims in using the service. This national victim notification center has made over 22 million calls, resulting in more than one million notification events and saving countless lives.

VINE technology is also being used in Federal correctional facilities. In 1999, the U.S. Department of Justice launched its Federal Victim Notification Service with the core VINE software. I am proud to note that DOJ's Federal Victim Notification Service also utilizes the Louisville-based communications center that provides victim notification services for the county jails and State prisons in 36 States.

It is now time to make this life-saving service available to every crime victim in America. And this legislation helps make that a reality. The lack of victims' rights, including notification about the status of an offender, is a national criminal justice problem that requires national leadership to solve. This legislation recognizes the national problem, and I am proud to say this bill includes a component to help complete the job of providing safety to victims of domestic violence and other violent crimes.

I commend the Senator from Arizona and the Senator from California for their tireless work on this issue.

This legislation not only states that each victim of violent crime has a right to be notified of the release or the escape of the accused, but it also authorizes adequate funding to see that the crime victim notification network that currently protects many of the Nation's crime victims is extended to cover all of the Nation's crime victims.

In an effort to prevent any family from having to suffer the tragedy that befell hers, Mary Byron's mother, Pat, has dedicated the last ten years of her life to raising awareness and support for innovative programs, such as VINE, that help to break the cycle of violence. The Mary Byron Foundation, along with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, are strong supporters of completing the VINE Network, and I ask my colleagues to join with us in supporting this critical piece of legislation.

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