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January 16, 2014

County continues victim notification program

NEW CASTLE — A program that alerts victims when offenders get out of jail is deemed a success, so far, in Lawrence County.

As a result, the Lawrence County commissioners have decided to extend an agreement with the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Institute to continue using SAVIN — Pennsylvania’s victim notification service.

This year’s cost is $3,088, about $1,000 cheaper than it was last year.

The program, instituted in Lawrence County last year, notifies victims, especially those of violent crimes, by an automated phone call or online, when the offender is released from jail.

Lawrence County currently has 415 victims enrolled in the program.

Kate Fee-Baird, victim witness coordinator in the county district attorney’s office, explained to the commissioners that victims are notified automatically whenever an offender is released, transferred to another institution, escapes or dies.

“Most of the victims are of physical or sexual abuse or those with whom the defendant has had any physical contact, and are fearful of the defendant coming back to their home.”

She explained a defendant often will waive a preliminary hearing in exchange for a lower bond and there is concern about where that person is going.

Once a person enrolls in the SAVIN program, if the defendant is in the state or county system, and moves around at all, he or she is notified, Fee-Baird said.

“We feel that victims have information, they have strength and they feel they are back in control of their lives,” she told the commissioners, adding, “this contract is amazing.”

The SAVIN system provides the information free to victims about the status of offenders in the county jail, state prisons or on state parole. Those people must be registered to receive notifications.

Each person who enrolls gets a personal identification number. When SAVIN calls, the person will have to enter his or her PIN or SAVIN will call every 15 minutes for 72 hours until the victim is reached.

The system is confidential, so only the person with the PIN will get the information.

The jail previously had been notifying victims based on a list it received from central court, but that was hit and miss.

More information about the service is available by calling (866) 9PA-SAVIN or visiting www.pacrimevictims.com.

(Email: mailto:dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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