Groups Denounce General Treasurer Rules Denying Compensation to Certain Victims of Violent Crimes
Posted: July 27, 2006|Category: Discrimination Category: Rights of Ex-Offenders
Seven organizations that service people with substance abuse problems today sharply criticized as “discriminatory and mean-spirited” regulations approved earlier this week by General Treasurer Paul Tavares, allowing the state to deny compensation to victims of violent crimes based solely on their past drug-related criminal history. The groups further called on the Democratic and Republican candidates for that office, Frank Caprio and Andrew Lyon III, to commit to repealing those regulations if elected. The rule at issue provides that if a crime victim has pled nolo or been convicted of “violent felonious criminal conduct, or DUI/DWI, or the illegal manufacture, sale or delivery of a controlled substance, or possession with intent to manufacture, sell, or deliver a controlled substance … committed within the past five (5) years or subsequent to his or her injury, the administrator may reduce or deny an award to the applicant or applicants.” Drug and DUI convictions are the only non-violent offenses that have been added to trigger a possible denial of victim compensation. The DUI provision was added last year, and the drug offense language was adopted this week after a public hearing held earlier this month.
The organizations criticizing the General Treasurer’s action – the R.I. Council of Community Mental Health Organizations, the Drug and Alcohol Treatment Association of R.I., Direct Action for Rights and Equality, the R.I. Medical Society, the R.I. Disability Law Center, RICARE, and the ACLU of Rhode Island – argued that the rule only serves to punish ex-offenders with addiction problems for their blameless involvement as victims in separate, unrelated criminal acts.
Elizabeth V. Earls, President/CEO of RICCMHO, said today: “Treatment and rehabilitation work, yet regulations such as these send one message, and one message only -- if you have ever suffered and struggled with an addiction, we will never forget and we will punish you at every turn. Frankly, I am embarrassed and I am outraged to know that this office is capable of such discriminatory and mean-spirited action.”
The organizations noted that compensation is generally available only for very serious offenses. Furthermore, the law explicitly bars compensation when the behavior of the victim directly or indirectly contributed to his or her injury or death. The organizations specifically focused on the impropriety of singling out DUI and drug offenses, both of which are often committed by people who are suffering from diseases – alcoholism and drug addiction.
In a letter to the two General Treasurer candidates, Democrat Frank Caprio and Republican Andrew Lyon III, the groups stated: “As organizations that deal with people who struggle with a drug or alcohol addiction, we are frankly appalled that the General Treasurer’s office would turn on its head a program designed to aid crime victims into one that punishes them for their past misdeeds. It is particularly distressing that the specific offenders the General Treasurer has most recently decided to subject to this special treatment are ones who are often fighting serious addictions. The list of potentially disqualifying offenses in the rules was already extraordinarily excessive. But it is outrageous to extend them even further so that a drug addict who is sexually assaulted faces the possibility of reduced (or no) compensation solely because of her own past run-in with the law while selling drugs to feed her habit.”
Anne Mulready, supervising attorney at RIDLC, said: “Former addicts and those in treatment for addiction are considered persons with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In authorizing the reduction or denial of victim compensation benefits to people who have criminal drug records, the Treasurer is setting up a system that potentially discriminates against former drug addicts and those currently in treatment for addiction on the basis of disability in violation of the law.”
RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown added: “Although the regulation makes the reduction or denial in aid discretionary, its mere presence may be enough to discourage some victims from applying for compensation in the first place. At bottom, this regulation runs directly counter to the goals of victim compensation, and unfairly and inappropriately re-victimizes victims.” In response to written testimony the ACLU submitted earlier this month in opposition to the rules, the General Treasurer’s office has called the new regulations “fair and reasonable.”