The New DA Announces A Victim's Rights Division

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Harris County District Attorney Patricia Lykos announced today she's expanding and improving the division that serves Harris County's crime victims.

"Government exists to protect and to serve; that's what we're doing with this new division," Lykos tells Hair Balls. "We're ensuring that it's not bureaucratic."

The announcement was met with some applause and some eye-rolling. (After all, one of the "big moves" was to change the name from Victim Witness Division to Victim's Rights Division.)

Andy Kahan, the victim's-rights advocate for the mayor's office, was one of those applauding.

"Victims, again, should be given top priority," Kahan said. "We're certainly thankful that the new district attorney has honored what she campaigned on...."We think that victims are now in good hands."

Kahan also mentioned that part of what brought the subject to light may have been Chris Vogel's piece "Crime Doesn't Pay(back): A Houston Press Special Report on Court-Ordered Restitutions in Texas"

Prosecutor Michelle Permenter is the new director of the operation. She tells us that one thing that has been crippling to the division in the past is that often times the focus has been on defendants and defendant's rights. (Which might be news to defense attorneys working the courthouse, but that's what she said.)

Respect for the victim is a priority, she said, and the new division wants to be sure that "we meet them (the crime victims) where they are, not where we think they should be."

Improvement on databases, tracking restitution, being able to respond more to the needs of the victims, and an increase in personnel are some of the changes expected to take place.

Lykos said new staffing is to include four more coordinators and two additional support staff. All of which, however, is unnecessary and money that could be better spent elsewhere, said longtime criminal defense lawyer Kent Schaffer.

To expand that particular division was a smart political move, Schaffer said of Lykos, who he called a "consummate politician." Since the time the DA's office began offering these services in 1977, however, he said he's never heard of a particular problem.

"It sure looks good for the DA to tell the victims, 'We're beefing up our staff just to handle all of your problems and complaints, and to provide services for you,'" he says. The bragging rights that come with immediately doubling the size of the Victims' Rights Division are hard to pass up.

"You can't blame a good politician for making a smart political move," Schaffer said. "You know what? If I was the DA, I'd probably do it too."

-- Melanie Pang

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