HOLLIDAYSBURG - Many agencies are projected to lose funding when the new state budget is passed and goes into effect this week, but for those who provide services to crime victims in Blair County, the crisis is already here.
Nancy Williams, director of Blair County's Juvenile Probation Office, said Monday that Betty Young, the advocate for victims in her office, has resigned because there will apparently be no money in the state budget to continue services for the victims and witnesses of juvenile crime.
This has forced the juvenile office to request help from the Blair County District Attorney's Office, which provides services for the victims of adult crime.
Sue Griep, longtime director of the adult victim witness program, said she has a vacancy in her office. She will meet with Williams and others on Thursday to discuss the use of a new hire to fill that vacancy to work with victims of both juvenile and adult crimes.
This is only a patchwork effort, however, because in another year, Griep said, her funding is due to be reduced even more.
Both offices have put out feelers to the Blair County commissioners in hopes the county could make up the lost funding.
Commissioner Diane Meling said the money is just not there to allocate thousands of dollars to the juvenile and adult victim-witness programs, even though those programs represent only a few thousand dollars in a county budget that tops $60 million in its general fund.
Meling said the county itself is facing cuts in many of its human service programs, such as Children, Youth & Families, mental health and the human services office.
"It is a difficult time," Meling said, pointing out that the county is mandated to provide services to children, the mentally ill, the elderly and others.
She said the county's ability to pay for services is being strained.
"We are operating from a difficult position already," she said.
Juvenile Probation officer Tina Frank said Monday that last year, her office had to deal with victims and witnesses in 354 cases.
In the first half of this year, there were 218 cases requiring victim-witness services, showing a possible substantial increase in the demand for services.
Frank said the numbers seem to go in spurts, meaning it's still too early to tell if juvenile crime is spiking this year.
Griep, on the other hand, said her four-person staff must handle victim-witnesses in more than 2,600 cases.
Both offices have the task of helping victims and witnesses through the court process. The advocates for the victims attend court hearings with many of the victims, help them obtain restitution and generally are available to consult with them.
"Every victim is important, no matter what," said Blair County Deputy District Attorney Wade Kagarise, who has been working on the problem.
He said his office is committed to making victims of juvenile crime part of the process.
"I personally think services to victims is one of the most important funding considerations that is to be made in the criminal justice system," he said.
He said the victims have the right to restitution, the right to speak out and the right to assistance.
"We're working through it," he said of the present situation, adding that putting a new system into place will be a "step-by-step process."
Kagarise said the state imposes mandates and regulations on the counties, but then does not come through with the funding.
"We understand the difficulties county government faces," he said.
Carol L. Lavery, who is Pennsylvania's victim advocate, said a patchwork-type system for victims is not how things should be done. She said it's going to be a "tragedy" if victim-witness services are seriously reduced.
In the fiscal year that expires on Saturday, funding through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency program, called Victims of Juvenile Offenders, was eliminated. Stimulus money and funds through the Crime Victims Compensation Fund were used to keep the services afloat.
That money is no longer available.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.