After my Christmas Eve experience, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that New Jersey would be buying me a new iPhone. I wasn’t about to turn down the offer, but it seemed, as a couple of commentators pointed out, rather a frivolous use of tax money to recompense me for a phone that, honestly, I could afford to buy myself and should have taken insurance out on anyway. So, I looked into the scheme a little more closely.
New Jersey’s Victims of Crime Compensation Office is just one of many variants upon the general concept of governments looking after victims of (generally, violent) crimes. These schemes have come about in many ways, in the European Union member states have signed an agreement to implement them, whereas in the US they have been implemented in a more ad-hoc manner at a state level, often due to public demand. The State of Washington offers a nice example of this:
Washington’s Crime Victims Compensation Program began primarily as the result of a series of editorials in the early 1970′s in the state’s 2 major newspapers.
The theme of the editorials was that criminals were having their room and board and medical needs met by the state’s prison system while victims were left with medical bills and other costs because of the offenders’ crime.
The EU system is a wonderful example of when member-state co-operation is both actually implemented (without the French objecting and blockading any ports) and also, as far as I can tell, efficiently and effectively run. Council Directive 2004/80/EC states:
Crime victims should be entitled to fair and appropriate compensation for the injuries they have suffered, regardless of where in the European Union (EU) the crime was committed. This directive contributes to this by:
- Requiring Member States to provide in their national legislation for a compensation scheme for victims of violent intentional crime committed in their territories;
- Setting up a system facilitating access to compensation for victims of crimes in cross-border situations (possibility of making an application in the Member State of residence, designation of central contact points in Member States, etc.).
Perusing the EU directive and the US’ National Center for Victims of Crime, which lists the various schemes now available in every state, it becomes clear that NJ is unusually generous in refunding ‘economic loss’, so I looked into quite how much this is costing them. In a quick breakdown of their figures for 2011, roughly:
$4.95 million was paid for medical/dental [bills]; $2.72 million was awarded for economic loss; $1.27 million was paid for funeral/burial services; and $.71 million was paid for counselling.
At first glance, it seems this money is taken from a rather strained state budget of around $4 billion. However, charitable donations to this fund actually reduce the burden on the state to a much smaller figure – well under $1million – mostly used to pay the administration costs. This disbursement of $10million seems a fair average for a state the size of NJ. Similar-sized states I could find figures for include Washington, North Carolina, Michigan and Massachusetts.
The majority of these schemes, in the US, therefore, are aimed towards helping with medical costs incurred in violent crimes, and counselling for the victims, together with much smaller costs to recompense travel or short-term accommodation for those testifying against their attackers, or those who have to move to get away from domestic violence or similar situations. Within the EU, where high-quality, free national heath schemes are the norm, the award is effectively disposable income, although in actuality is often be used to offset wage loss or other costs incurred as a result of violence.
Finally, it’s interesting that the UK seems singular in explicitly stating their unwillingness to help in a number of circumstances. Having looked up some examples, it seems the last point isn’t so much of a penalty for tardiness, which would be very harsh in cases of domestic abuse where the victim takes time to speak up, but is more aimed at those who attempt to use a historic incident to revenge themselves for a more recent slight.
We may also refuse or reduce an award because of:
- Your behaviour before, during or after the incident in which you were injured
- Your criminal record
- Your failure to co-operate with the police or with us
- Your delay in informing the police or other organisation or person of the incident
It was very uplifting to discover the wealth of support available, but I hope it never proves useful information for anyone reading.