ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Homeland Security, Justice, and Public Safety, chaired by Sen. Steven Payne, Sr., convened a meeting at the Capitol Building. Lawmakers received testimony on Bill No. 34-0141- An Act amending Title 34, Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 8, to require the Virgin Islands Attorney GeneralÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Office to expeditiously notify victims of crimes against the person of the release of their alleged perpetrator. The measure also seeks to require the Department of Justice to promulgate regulations to effectuate the mandate of section 203a. Ultimately, lawmakers voted in the affirmative for the measure as amended. The bill will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.
According to Senator Donna Frett-Gregory, sponsor of the bill, the legislation expands the rights and protections for the victims. It requires that victims be notified by the Government of the Virgin Islands when a perpetrator is released from jail. She stated that the Virgin Islands Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Virgin Islands Bureau of Corrections (BOC) can collaborate to ensure victims are informed when an alleged offender is released.
However, Denise George, Esq., Attorney General of the Virgin Islands, mentioned that DOJ does not have access to information regarding the release of inmates from BOC. The DOJ does not have any links or access to that information to carry out such a mandate. Furthermore, George, Esq. reiterated that the Bureau of Corrections is required by Section 203 (c) of the V.I. Code to notify victims when a perpetrator is released from prison. Concurringly, Senator Novelle Francis noted that BOC and the parole board are ultimately responsible for notifying victims or a designated representative of the victimÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s family of the release of the perpetrator, not the DOJ.
In support of the bill, the Bureau of Corrections Director Wynnie Testamark recommended thatÃ¢â‚¬Â¯similar to 48 states, the Virgin Islands should also adopt the free nationwide system, Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE). The purpose of VINE, a national communications center, is to immediately notify and update crime victims and their families of the release or custody status of an offender via text messages and/or automated phone calls. Testamark cautioned that the Virgin Islands acquire VINE to give swift notification to victims of domestic violence. Weighing in on the discussion, WomenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Coalition of St. Croix Director Clema Lewis, MA noted that, presently, it is a major challenge to obtain information about offenders in the Virgin Islands.
Victims are unaware of the status of the offender, including information on their work release, sentence completion, court hearings regarding the release, and parole. Similarly, the Family Resource Center Director, Anya Stuart, indicated that it is vital for victims to be notified early on because they must prepare themselves mentally, psychologically, emotionally, and physically.
Senators in attendance: Chairman Steven D. Payne, Sr., Donna Frett-Gregory, Franklin D. Johnson, Alma Francis Heyliger, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Dwayne DeGraff, Javan E. James, Sr., Genevieve R. Whitaker.