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Victim compensation unit eliminated within Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office

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A small unit inside the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office that has processed compensation claims for crime victims will be shut down at the end of the year, a state decision District Attorney Jill Ravitch said was based on the local unit’s performance.

Since 1986, the county’s unit has collected up to $15 million for victims while contracting with the California Victim Compensation Board, which is charged with providing compensation for victims of violent crimes.

But a year before the most recent three-year contract is set to end, the state has decided to pull the plug on funding, effectively shuttering the local office in favor of a state-run process Ravitch promised would be the same “if not better” for crime victims.

The state’s decision eliminates $175,000 in funding for three positions that the county will try to retain in another capacity. But the move landed with a sickening thud for the affected workers. Janeann Dawson, a claims supervisor in the unit who also is president of the SEIU Local 1021, county government’s largest union, said she was “devastated” by the decision.

“Local services need to be in this county,” she said in her comments to the Board of Supervisors at its Nov. 19 meeting. “Victims will not be served in this county.”

Money given out to victims in the program comes from fines levied against those convicted of violent crimes. Victims can request money for mental or physical health care, income loss, funeral or burial expenses, job training, home security and more.

Ravitch, speaking to the board at the same meeting, said she negotiated with the state in an effort to keep the program, working with state officials since first receiving notice Sept. 30. The best she got was an extension on the 30-day notice to Dec. 31.

“(The state) made a determination that the work performance wasn’t where it needs to be, with all due respect to the people in the claims unit,” Ravitch said. “The claims unit came up with its own proposal; it was one-third the amount of work the state believes this unit can do.”

The cut follows a statewide trend. At one point, the state contracted with every county for the services. Today, just 18 counties still have an active contract with the state for victim compensation.

Napa and Marin counties also no longer have local victim compensation units, a fact cited in Sonoma County documents explaining the state’s push.

Ravitch said via email that her office’s victim advocates will not be impacted by the change. Those employees work directly with victims, accompanying them in court, assisting with referrals for therapy and other services.

Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin said nobody was happy with the state’s decision.

“Yet the state made a decision to take this program away,” Gorin said. “We may not like it, but what opportunities do we have?”

Dawson voiced fear last week that those in her unit would lose their jobs altogether or be forced to take pay cuts in other posts.

Ravitch’s office refused to address specific personnel questions except to say the office was working to find comparable jobs for the three people.

Dawson could not be reached for further comment this week.

Ravitch and her office directed other questions to the California Victim Compensation Board. That office said via email it would not be able to answer questions by deadline. Records that could detail some of the reasons behind the state office’s decision were not immediately available.

You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or at tyler.silvy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @tylersilvy.

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