Monitoring and Evaluating Compensation Programs

Monitoring and Evaluating Compensation Programs

Monitoring and Evaluating Compensation Programs
Monitoring and Evaluating Compensation Programs

Many arguments about the rightness of compensa- tion hinge on judgments about the type of financial help victims require and on assumptions about the ability of programs to meet these needs. Because many states have operated programs for several dec- ades, a substantial body of data is available for anal- ysis. The differences between state programs can be considered an asset: Each jurisdiction can be regarded as a social laboratory where an experiment is in progress. From this viewpoint, various approaches to achieving the same ends are tested to determine which works best. Evaluation is espe- cially important as a means of improving service delivery during periods when the public clamors for additional government aid but is unwilling to pay higher taxes for it.

Program evaluations reveal how well compen- sation boards are meeting their goals. But assessing whether they are succeeding or failing in their mis- sion requires a clear statement of goals. In the 1960s, the early advocates of reimbursing victims from government-administered funds had ambi- tious expectations and made optimistic (and perhaps unrealistic) pronouncements. Their noble, charita- ble, and humanitarian aims of substantially alleviat- ing the economic suffering of injured parties generally have not been realized. Statistics that either support or refute other contentions can be derived from two assessments: process evaluations and impact evaluations.

Process Evaluations: Uncovering How Programs Work Process evaluations focus on the programs’ internal operations and monitor variables such as productivity, overhead costs, and decision-making patterns. Assessments of the efficiency of adminis- trative practices contribute to efforts to eliminate delays, minimize overhead, and iron out inequities. Process evaluations also develop profiles of the typ- ical claimants and recipients of awards. Analyzing data bearing on these questions allows evaluators to provide useful feedback to administrators and board members about trends and patterns that char- acterize their efforts.

Two process evaluations of a sample of the 50 state funds in operation at the end of the 1980s (Parent et al., 1992) and the start of the 1990s (Sarnoff, 1996) shed light on aspects of how com- pensation programs actually work. The programs in the survey’s sample granted aid to about two-thirds of the applicants. Most of the funds’ revenue was raised from fines and penalty assessments levied on all kinds of law violators (including drivers who committed traffic infractions), with the rest derived from general appropriations (taxes) and from the federal government in grants from VOCA. Most claims concerned drunk driving crashes, homicides, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, and child abuse cases. Very few claims arose from spouse abuse. The volume of cases handled per year varied dramati- cally by population size and crime rate. Case pro- cessing time (how long it took to resolve a claim) ranged from one month to two years, with a mean of 18 weeks. To aid victims during the interim, most states granted small emergency awards. Some programs were run more efficiently than others, in terms of administrative costs as a percentage of total expenditures.

As for decision-making patterns, denial rates indicated that some boards were much stricter than others. Denials can be issued for technical rea- sons, such as failure to supply sufficient documenta- tion of expenses; and for fault, such as the stigmatizing moral judgment that the claimant was guilty of contributory misconduct. Some boards seemed more generous, while others were deter- mined to refute the charges that they “gave

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money away” and were vulnerable to fraud and abuse.

The average award ranged from a low of nearly $700 to a high of roughly $9,000 (in a state where attorney’s fees were covered). The rate of compen- sation, calculated as a proportion (crimes that were compensated compared to reported crimes com- mitted in that state that year that potentially could have been eligible for compensation), also showed tremendous variation. It ranged from a low of 1 percent to a high of 91 percent and averaged 19 percent. The number of “unserved” victims a year in the late 1980s was estimated to be 55 per- cent of all potentially eligible persons (innocent, injured, suffering out-of-pocket expenses). In other words, despite outreach efforts (such as public service announcements and posters in police sta- tions and hospital emergency rooms), more than half of all possible beneficiaries did not know their rights and/or did not even file a claim. Some state program administrators estimated that 67 percent, maybe even 95 percent, of eligible victims did not apply for financial aid. Of course, if more eligible people had been aware of their rights and sought reimbursement, their claims would have taken even longer to process. Also, the boards either would have had to cut back on the average size of awards or turn down a greater proportion of applicants, unless the directors could somehow raise more money (Parent et al., 1992; and Sarnoff, 1996). Setting up storefront offices to accept claims from people living in high-crime areas helps achieve the objective of reaching the maximum number of deserving individuals in the most effective and efficient manner possible (McCormack, 1991). Reading victims their rights is the most effective form of outreach. In North Carolina, police depart- ments are required within 72 hours to tell victims about the resources available to them, including financial assistance through its state compensation program (Hinchcliffe, 2014).

The findings from process evaluations about insufficient funding and inadequate outreach con- firm that compensation plans are failing to live up to their humanitarian commitments. Because of their limited budgets, many boards maintain low

profiles or even face prohibitions against advertis- ing. Lack of interest on the part of police, prosecu- tors, and hospital emergency room personnel might also be a continuing problem. Some injured parties might be deterred by complex filing procedures and detailed probes into their personal finances (to pre- vent fraud). Others are discouraged when they hear about high rejection rates, long waits, and disap- pointingly small awards. On one hand, even with low rates of applications and awards, underfunded programs can run out of money before the year is over (McGillis and Smith, 1983; and Sanderson, 1994). On the other hand, inadequate outreach efforts can result in surpluses if injured parties don’t realize that they can be reimbursed for expenses such as crime scene cleanups, counseling, and rehabilitation services (“New Jersey,” 2002).

In 1995, state compensation programs across the country paid nearly $250 million to about 120,000 people harmed by violent crimes. Victims of assault (47 percent) and child abuse (especially sexual abuse) (12 percent) were the most numerous recipients. Almost half of the money went to cover medical expenses, and most of the rest was reim- bursement for lost wages, mental health treatment, and funeral expenses. The national average for an award was close to $2,000. By 2010, even though crime rates were substantially lower, the number of recipients had risen to more than 200,000, and the total payout had climbed to close to $500 million. Most of this money from the 50 state programs came from offenders rather than taxpayers. Federal funding provided about 35 percent of the benefits the states disbursed, but fines and assessments imposed on those convicted in federal courts were the sole sources of this aid from Washington. Reimbursements often were for medical expenses, and millions were spent on covering the costs of forensic examinations for persons who had been sexually assaulted. Abused children received nearly 30 percent of the financial aid, families of murdered persons received about 10 percent, and those who were sexually assaulted received about 8 percent. Individuals who were physically assaulted (espe- cially from acts of domestic violence) continued to be the largest group getting monetary help


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(adding up to about half of all successful claimants) (NACVCB, 2011). Of course, not all claimants deserve compensation, or meet the eligibility requirements, or can document their losses. In Delaware, the approval rate was a little over 75 percent in 2013 (Anderson, 2014). Eligibility rules can be rather strict. For example, in North Carolina, a claim can be turned down if the injured party was convicted of a serious felony in the three years prior to the victimization (Hinchcliffe, 2014).

Impact Evaluations: Measuring the Effects of Programs Impact evaluations are carried out to compare a program’s intentions with its actual accomplishments. The studies reveal the conse- quences of a program for its clients and the com- munity. To determine whether compensation really eases financial stress, the ratio of award pay- ments to submitted losses can be calculated. To assess a program’s impact on the participation of compensated complainants in the criminal justice system, those who did and did not receive aid can be compared, in terms of their attendance rates as witnesses in police lineups and court proceedings. The diversity of structures and procedures in dif- ferent state programs provides opportunities to test which arrangements work best under what conditions.

The findings of research and evaluation studies can have important consequences for the future of compensation. Determining successes and failures can help resolve the ongoing debates over the pros and cons of compensating crime victims with public funds and the merits and shortcomings of particular rules and practices (Chappell and Sutton, 1974; Carrow, 1980; and NIJ, 1998).

The findings of several impact evaluations do not support the hypothesis that the prospect of reimbursement would increase the public’s degree of cooperation with law enforcement. In the 1970s, when reporting rates for violent crimes in states with programs were compared with the rates in states without programs, no appreciable differences were found (Doerner, 1978). Comparing the atti- tudes of claimants in Florida who were granted awards to those whose requests were denied

revealed that being repaid did not significantly improve a victim’s ratings of the quality of performance of the police, prosecutors, or judges (Doerner and Lab, 1980).

More information is needed about the impact of board decisions on the psychological and eco- nomic well-being of physically injured applicants. Those who were rejected because of what they perceived to be mere technicalities (such as waiting too long before filing) might feel cheated. Insensi- tive treatment, lengthy background investigations, extensive delays, and partial reimbursements can make even successful claimants feel victimized once again (McGillis and Smith, 1983).

One researcher who evaluated the New York and New Jersey programs concluded that claimants ended up more alienated from the criminal justice system than nonclaimants. Instead of reducing pub- lic discontent with the police and courts, compen- sation programs provoked additional frustrations. Applicants’ expectations probably rose when they first learned about the chance of reimbursement, but these hopes were consistently frustrated when most claimants, for a variety of reasons, were turned down or awarded insufficient funds to cover their documented expenses. Three-quarters indicated that they would not apply for compensation again if they were victimized a second time, largely because of their displeasure over delays, eligibility requirements, incidental expenses, inconveniences, their treatment by program administrators, and, ultimately, the inadequacy of their reimbursements (Elias, 1983a).

The enactment of compensation programs might have been merely an exercise in “symbolic politics.” This judgment accuses certain manipula- tive politicians of voting for programs that look impressive on paper because they want to appear to be doing something for victims, but these elected officials fail to allocate the necessary resources to make the promise a reality. Nevertheless, the public is favorably impressed by the foresight and concern shown by policymakers and legislators toward vic- tims. Unaware that the majority of claimants are turned down and that the remainder are largely dissatisfied, voters are led to believe that an effective

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safety net has been set up to cushion the blows of violent crime (Elias, 1983b, 1986).

In sum, four longstanding problems undermine the effectiveness of these programs. First, outreach is inadequate: Too many injured parties are unaware that they are eligible for reimbursement. Only 4 percent of violent crime victims nationwide applied for compensation from state programs in 2002. Second, eligibility is too restrictive: Too many claimants are turned down because of overly strict requirements. Third, the awards that success- ful applicants receive too often are not enough to bail them out of their financial predicaments. And fourth, money derived from penalizing and fining lawbreakers never is sufficient to meet critical needs (Herman and Waul, 2004).

And yet, the swift action by Congress to estab- lish the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund demonstrates that governmental organizations are capable of taking creative, resourceful, sustained, compassionate, and generous steps to help people rebuild their lives. Could those same unprece- dented efforts that aided the more than 4,400 indi- viduals directly injured by the terrorist attacks and the nearly 3,000 survivor families be mobilized on a routine basis to assist the 23 million people harmed annually by “ordinary” crimes, advocates ask?

Inspired by the September 11th fund, victim advocates called for many reforms. All innocent parties should be eligible for compensation, not only people injured by violence. All crime-related losses should be reimbursed, and time limits shouldn’t be imposed on ongoing problems (such as PTSD). Everyone who files a complaint with the police should be informed about and helped to fill out a claim. The process of granting aid should be fair, respectful, efficient, and easy to understand. Income tax relief should be granted to offset vic- tims’ losses (currently most do not lose enough money to qualify for tax deductions). Tax revenue should supplement the inadequate funding raised from offender penalties. Legislatures should deter- mine the best practices already implemented in the various states, as well as in compensation programs in other countries, advocates suggest (Herman and Waul, 2004).

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