The Essex County Office of Victim-Witness Advocacy was started by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office in 1982 pursuant to New Jersey law, which requires the county Victim-Witness Coordinator to implement and provide services to crime victims. The Office’s primary mandate is to fulfill the provisions of the New Jersey Constitution and New Jersey statutes which require:
- That crime victims be treated with dignity, compassion, and respect;
- Those victims are informed and consulted in matters such as plea bargaining;
- Those victims are given the right to be heard at all stages of the criminal justice process.
For a detailed description of all services available to crime victims and witnesses from the ECPO Victim-Witness Advocacy Office as well as from other sources, along with other victim/witness information and how to contact the ECPO Victim-Witness Advocacy Office
The Essex County Office of Victim-Witness Advocacy helps victims and witnesses deal with immediate life needs, especially those who live within Essex County’s lower-income neighborhoods, who are most at-risk of experiencing violent crime and whose lives are most vulnerable to economic and personal disruption. The Office helps them to find the resources needed to maintain basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, health care, employment, transportation, daycare for pre-school children, etc. It also assists victims and witnesses in dealing with the psychological trauma of crime (which cuts across all economic and social strata) and helps them obtain professional assistance as needed. The Office then helps victims and witnesses to understand and fulfill their rights and responsibilities within the criminal justice system, providing continual communication and coordination regarding case progress and participation in legal proceedings.
The Office provides court accompaniment and escort services as appropriate, especially where intimidation is present. Office personnel also assist victims in gaining economic compensation for their losses through insurance, restitution, and the Victims of Crime Compensation Board. The Office assures victims and witnesses that it is equally concerned with their overall well-being as with obtaining the conviction of the offender.
The Office of Victim-Witness Advocacy has qualified staff with significant training and professional counseling experience in emergency assistance, crisis management, and interpersonal violence. The staff includes a Victim-Witness Coordinator, Victim-Witness Counselors, and Clerical Assistants. The Coordinator meets bi-weekly with the Counselors to review and evaluate cases, discuss progress, and develop service plans to ensure procedural and programmatic compliance with state and federal regulations. The Office is supported in part by government grants involving Federal and State of New Jersey funding programs.
The program, entitled “Sanctuary,” is designed to provide local residents who fall victim to domestic violence-related assault, sexual assault, and child abuse with supportive, culturally sensitive, crisis intervention services. Survivors of domestic violence-related homicide victims are also assisted through this program. Sanctuary volunteers met for three to six hours every week over a 20-week period. Interactive exercises, which include role-plays, case studies, scenarios, simulations, individual and group activities, video presentations, field trips, and court-watch activities, allow program participants to develop, practice, and perfect the skills covered during the training sessions. Since its inception in 2010, Sanctuary has graduated over 220 volunteers who are now equipped to provide immediate outreach, advocacy, and support services to those intimate partner victims and their children within a 48-to-72-hour period.
The Office also expanded its formal relocation program. This program offers and provides security and protection to victims and witnesses who have been threatened, intimidated, or harassed because they have provided information to law enforcement regarding organized crime, gang-related, and domestic violence cases. Trained advocates provide survivors of crime with referrals to social service agencies that offer emergency shelter placement, transitional and permanent housing, food, and clothing. The advocates also work closely with other government and community agencies to ensure that the victim/witness is fully and successfully integrated into the new living environment.
Staff continues to enhance the Victim-Witness Advocacy Office’s portal on the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office’s general website. The Victim-Witness portal is colorful, interactive, user-friendly, visually-appealing, and easily understood by those who access the pages. The website content includes information on the amendments to the Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights, notification process, the crisis reaction, HIV/AIDS/Hepatitis C testing, the criminal justice process, information on how to obtain a temporary/final restraining domestic violence order, tips for witness testimony and V.I.N.E. notification.
Finally, unit staff also organized the Office’s annual “Holiday Toy Drive” to assist needy families, many of which were assisted by the Victim-Witness Advocacy Unit, each year approximately 500 toys, board and video games, dolls, electronics, balls, and clothing items were collected and distributed to ten social services agencies who, in turn, distributed to toys to those in need residing in Essex County.