Berkshire DA’s Office Enhancing Victim Witness Advocate Program
Press Release From the Berkshire District Attorney's Office:
The Berkshire District Attorney’s Office is enhancing services to victims of crime with the help of two state grants.
The Massachusetts Office of Victim Assistance awarded the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office Victim of Crimes Act funding totaling $166,254 and Human Trafficking Trust Fund grant funding totaling $15,000 to further support and protect the rights afforded to victims of crime and their families.
“We are a victim-centered office that seeks to empower survivors of crime and are committed to building a robust, inclusive, and culturally-sensitive victim witness program. These vital grant funds from MOVA will fill long-standing gaps in victim services.” District Attorney Andrea Harrington said.
“Victims and their families deserve to be treated with compassion, dignity, respect, and deserve a meaningful role in the criminal justice system. Our victim witness advocates are building trust in the community every day.”
The Berkshire District Attorney’s Office applied for and won a $166,254 Victims of Crime Act funding to provide additional direct support to victims and witnesses. The grant allocates funding for travel and accommodations for families who wish to exercise their rights in attending court dates where they are not required to testify.
The grant creates a new advocate position to work with victims on their post-conviction rights including matters of parole, appeals, and other motions made following the adjudication of the case. This position will also allow for a dedicated victim witness advocate to provide services to families in all motor vehicle homicide cases.
This advocate will work to meet the unique needs of families experiencing the unimaginable trauma of losing a family member in a motor vehicle homicide to navigate the criminal justice system when an individual is charged or during an investigation.
The grant allocates money for improved interpretation services, providing immediate access to translators or translating services in multiple languages outside of court. The Berkshire District Attorney’s Office will have immediate access to a digital service or can hire an interpreter to attend in-person meetings outside of court.
The grant upgrades the phone system to support the deaf and hard of hearing community.
The grant includes funding to meet the basic needs of victims in crisis after a crime has been committed against them, continuing the new victim witness advocate hotline, making technology upgrades, and printing informational brochures.
The Berkshire District Attorney’s Office also applied for and won $15,000 from the Human Trafficking Trust Fund for direct services to victims of human trafficking.
The funds will provide victims of human trafficking the essentials to stabilize in the areas of transportation, housing assistance, food assistance, and more.
“All crime victims have a right to be informed and heard in our criminal justice system,” said Liam Lowney, executive director of the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance.
“Victim Witness Advocates play an essential role in ensuring crime victims are afforded their rights and have access to services. We are pleased to support and partner with DA Andrea Harrington and her victim services team to ensure victims have access to these vital services.”
Victim witness advocates work to inform and enforce victim’s rights across the county and are available in each criminal court. Advocates provide crucial services to victims, witnesses, and families of crimes who have the right to be notified developments in the case involving them and the right to information on how to access social services.
In the last year, the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office expanded its reach in providing victim services by increasing the availability of advocates to the community, adding diversity to the staff, hiring a Spanish speaking advocate, conducting community outreach discussions, and launching a new Victim Witness Advocate information line.
Advocates assist with safety planning, referrals to confidential counseling, social services, help with obtaining restraining or harassment orders, and will answer questions about the criminal justice process and the possible outcomes to those who call or text the information line.
These services are especially helpful to domestic and sexual violence victims so they can make informed decisions about their participation and know what to anticipate.
The Berkshire District Attorney’s Office looks to add a restorative justice program to further empower victims.
Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington’s office serves all 32 cities and towns in Berkshire County. The office represents the Commonwealth in more than 7,500 criminal cases per year in Berkshire Superior Court, three district courts, three juvenile courts, Massachusetts Appeals Court, and Supreme Judicial Court. The office works closely with the State Police Detective Unit assigned to the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office, the Berkshire Law Enforcement Task Force, and collaborates with local police departments across the county. A dedicated staff of more than 50 prioritizes public safety, empowering victims and witnesses through services and support, and building a safe community for everyone and especially the most vulnerable.