NJADP Concentrates on Legislation to Aid Victims
by Ed Martone
During the eight-year campaign to abolish capital punishment in our state, the New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty received tireless leadership from many surviving relatives of homicide victims, as well as, valuable organizational support from MVFR. Moved by the needs of our fellow citizens who had endured such tragedy, NJADP secured a recommendation from our state’s Death Penalty Study Commission that, in addition to abolishing capital punishment, that the state provide more in the way of substantive assistance to survivors.
Immediately after then-Governor Jon Corzine signed the abolition bill into law on Dec. 17, 2007, NJADP voted unanimously to remain in operation in order to resist reinstatement; assist the national abolition movement; work to secure increased compensation for exonerees; and especially, to continue the effort to achieve enhanced social services for surviving relatives of homicide victims.
We commissioned a study of all public and private agencies in the state that provide any type of assistance (financial, counseling, etc.) to survivors. The initial 2008 survey has been updated for 2012
and is currently being distributed.
Of the thousands of bills pending in the N.J. Legislature, we identified ten that would make a difference in a survivor’s life, didn’t cost money, weren’t so controversial that they couldn’t pass,
didn’t increase criminal penalties, and were not merely symbolic. In January of this year, our efforts were successful when Gov. Chris Christie signed a measure into law that, among other things, replaced
the existing five-year limit on the payment of claims by the state’s Victims of Crime Compensation Office (VCCO) with a ten-year deadline – extended the time to file a police report and a claim – and eliminated insurance payments and charitable donations as offsets against a claims payment.
In August, Gov. Christie signed two more of our bills into law. The first enhances the present Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights statute, while the second prohibits first-responders from publicly circulating photos of crime and accident victims without their family’s permission.
Progress has been made on the remaining measures (added sponsors, companion bills introduced, committee hearings, etc.). These include expansion of the current Wrongful Death Act; sending unclaimed restitution payments to the VCCO rather than the State Treasury; providing victims with free police, toxicology, breathalyzer, and autopsy reports; increasing the drunk driving surcharge and sending the increase to the VCCO; requiring the state to preserve evidence in cold cases; and exempting charitable donations to surviving relatives of school violence from the state income tax.
Other ideas have come from survivors who have worked with NJADP. Some may cost money, while others may require legislation. These include: paid leave from work to attend court proceedings; improved services for NJ survivors when their loved one is killed in another state or country; waived college or university application and transcript fees for dependents of homicide victims; regular updates to survivors as to the status of cold cases; and more timely notification of a loved one’s injury or death to his/her family, among many additional ideas.
For more information, MVFR supporters should contact Ed Martone, Director of NJADP, at 732-247-8333 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Limits of Loyalty – A Post-Abolition Exploration
by Marie Verzulli
Limits of Loyalty is one of NYADP’s signature programs as it has transitioned to a post-abolition environment. Limits of Loyalty’s purpose is to expose high school and middle school students to a frank panel discussion of what personal responsibility is, how we connect with others, and how our life decisions can have a ripple effect on our family, friends, neighbors, community and eventually the world.
The panel includes people with compelling personal stories as well as those with institutional responsibility for keeping community members safe. Designed to stimulate students to think about the moral dimensions of bystander behavior, the presentation begs questions from the audience:
“When does loyalty to my own values trump loyalty to my friend?”
“What is my responsibility to act or to speak up when I witness other people being hurt?”
“What is the responsibility of all – including community members and those in authority – to build a community based on respect and trust?”
The presentation consists of a series of brief presentations by the panelists, followed by a question and answer session and open dialogue with students. It is intended to supplement regular academic studies in government, civics, psychology, and other courses, and to clarify values with regard to personal character development and responsible citizenship.
It is also intended to make accessible to young people, many of whom are abused, bullied, and broken, a clear message that we must save and love one another; put down guns and pick up personal courage; give a voice to the voiceless; and build peaceful communities.
The panel brings together a diverse group – the District Attorney of Schenectady County, a sergeant with the Schenectady Police Department, a formerly incarcerated now transformed drug dealer, a young woman who speaks up for her abused mother, a paralyzed former gang member, the brother of the Unabomber, and a father of murdered daughter – to explore the limits of loyalty.
Thus far, Limits of Loyalty has been presented in 16 schools to more than 800 students. It has been embraced by the school system, and the District Attorney calls it “the most effective gang prevention and intervention program” he has seen during his 25 years as district attorney.
The Schenectady School District has partnered with the grassroots organizations that have coalesced to form a Community Empowerment Partnership (CEP) to schedule future presentations of Limits of Loyalty and is now collaborating with the CEP to design a curriculum of follow-up presentations a) to maximize the long-term impact of the Limits of Loyalty program on students, and b) to build on the program’s effectiveness in bridging the gap between the school and its surrounding urban community.
Limits of Loyalty aims to achieve the following specific, measurable outcomes:
- An increase in the number of at-risk students seeking in-school counseling or mental health services;
- An increase in referrals to two community-based youth and family programs: the Hamilton Hill Family Resource Center (suicide prevention); and the Schenectady Anti-Violence Empowerment Project (SAVE) (youth gang and violence prevention);
- The formation of a new Youth Development model after-school program designed to promote volunteerism and peer support; and
- An increase in the community’s interest and the school’s receptivity to community involvement in the educational process, e.g. more relevant community-based programming coming into the schools.
For more information on Limits of Loyalty, contact Program Director Marie Verzulli at email@example.com.
Securing Resources to Keep Promises and Remain Vigilant
by Catherine A. Smith
When a state achieves repeal of the death penalty, there is much to celebrate. And – the work of creating a safer and more just society is hardly done. The articles in this newsletter by Marie Verzulli of NYADP and Ed Martone of NJADP are good examples of the valuable initiatives that can be taken by organizations in states that have ended the use of the death penalty.
Passing legislation that aids victims’ families in relevant, concrete ways; creating partnerships and programs that reduce violence and prevent victimization – and making sure the death penalty is not reinstated: how meaningful and exciting it is to be charged with finding financial support to sustain programs and goals as laudable, important and effective as those being conducted by NYADP and NJADP!
Since March 2012, I have brought my experience of nearly 30 years in communications and development to the task of obtaining funds to make sure that this critical work can continue. New York and New Jersey are not the only states where these needs exist. MVFR and its partners look ahead to inviting partners from other states as they achieve repeal of the death penalty. In Illinois, Connecticut and New Mexico, similar needs exist. Who could we see joining in post-abolition work next – California? Colorado? Delaware?
When abolition is achieved, the work is not over. We want to help state abolition groups stay together, refine their missions, utilize their assets, and work for victims’ families – and remain viable, alert and ready to prevent reinstatement of the death penalty in their state. Doing so requires financial resources to support and sustain the effort. Finding that support is the job I am privileged to perform for MVFR and its partners in post-abolition states.
Catherine A. Smith is president of Community-Based Communications, LLC. Learn more about her at www.mvfr.org.