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Opening the Door to Healing: Reaching and Serving Crime Victims Who Have a History of Incarceration

Opening the Door to Healing
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More than 2 million people are locked up in U.S. jails and prisons. Most were victims of crime before they were incarcerated, and many experience victimization during their incarceration or once they return home.2 But regardless of when their victimization occurred, the vast majority of survivors who have previously been incarcerated do not get the services they need to heal. They face many barriers to services, including often not being viewed by service providers as “victims” because of their criminal history. As a result, many survivors who have a history of incarceration live with a great deal of unaddressed trauma.

Unfortunately, lack of access to such services is not unique to survivors who were once incarcerated. Every year, millions of people nationwide become victims of crime. But according to the National Crime Victimization Survey, only about 8 percent of people who experience violent victimization report that they have received victim services. To understand the reasons that so many victims do not get services—as well as what resources and tools the field needs to reach more survivors—the National Resource Center for Reaching Victims (NRC), funded by the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) of the U.S. Department of Justice, undertook a comprehensive yearlong assessment of the victim services and related fields, beginning in the summer of 2017. The NRC, a collaboration among nine organizations, sought to understand who is underrepresented and why some people access services and others do not. (For more about the collaboration, see “About the National Resource Center for Reaching Victims” on page 3.) Using a number of methods including informational interviews, listening sessions, literature reviews, surveys, and reviews of practice documents, the NRC found that a number of groups of survivors were particularly hard to reach, including people who are formerly incarcerated.

The Vera Institute of Justice (Vera), the NRC partner leading the work to improve access to victim services for formerly incarcerated survivors, conducted a landscape analysis to

understand service needs and gaps for this population of crime victims. Vera assembled a group of experts comprising victim service providers, advocates (including people who have

personally experienced incarceration), and allied professionals to help design and implement this assessment. With the group’s guidance, Vera engaged more than 40 people through

8 informational interviews, listening sessions, and exploratory phone calls. They represented a range of perspectives and included Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) administrators, victim advocates, lawyers, reentry professionals, formerly incarcerated survivors, researchers, and criminal justice reform advocates. Vera also compiled and analyzed practice documents as well as an academic literature review.

This report synthesizes the information and insights Vera and the NRC gleaned from these activities and includes references to research and practice materials. The first section summarizes current knowledge about the overlap in experiences of victimization and incarceration, and the second section provides foundational information about incarceration in the United States. The third section describes what we learned from the assessment, and the last section outlines the priority needs that, if addressed, could lead to more crime victims who were once incarcerated getting the services they need to heal.

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