Victims Services Missing Millions in Georgia

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The Georgia state legislature will investigate why several million dollars in state funds has not made its way to programs intended to help crime victims. Three years of lobbying and cajoling by an activist who has worked with battered women prompted the Legislature to act, says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Under a 1995 law, 5 percent of every criminal fine imposed by a Georgia court should be targeted for programs to assist victims of and witnesses to crimes. But the law established no method to account for the money and made no single agency responsible for it. Records show more than $8 million was collected statewide in one 12-month period but only $4 million was disbursed to local victim assistance programs. Auditors say recordkeeping was so poor that there is no way to tell how the money was spent — or if it was spent at all. Local court officials have said some of the money may not even have been collected, if criminal defendants were allowed to pay fines in installments. Forty-one battered women’s shelters across Georgia, housing from 6 to 50 victims, qualify to receive a portion of the funds. The money is managed at the county level, and county commissioners hold the sole discretion about how to spend it. The state Criminal Justice Coordinating Council receives reports from county and municipal courts on collections and disbursements of fines, but it cannot vouch for the reliability of the reports.


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