Victim notification system could be up by December
Later this year, Walworth County will join more than 43 Wisconsin counties—including Rock County—in informing crime victims about the custody status of offenders.
The county will join the Wisconsin Victim Information and Notification Everyday service, which provides victims with 24/7 information about the whereabouts of perpetrators.
Once the service is installed, victims would be automatically notified when an offender is released on bond or after serving prison time. Notifications can be received via phone or e-mail, and victims can also call in to check.
“This new system is going to be a more efficient way of handling and notifying victims,” said court clerk Sheila Reiff, who has spearheaded efforts to get grants to fund the program.
Officials say knowing the whereabouts of an offender can make victims feel safer and possibly prevent new crimes.
“We want to do this because it protects victims,” said Walworth County Sheriff David Graves.
“Maybe there is a no-contact condition on their bond, maybe it’s a restraining order or the victim just wants to know when this person is released,” Graves added. “This system automatically kicks in and notifies the victim or the person being listed as being notified.”
The start-up cost of the service—about $20,000—will be paid for with money from a state grant. Once the program is up and running, the Walworth County Clerk of Courts’ Office will pay the annual cost of $8,600 to $9,600.
Along with making victims feel safer, the program also could ease the workload for some county employees, said Evelyn Schulz, a crime victim and witness coordinator at the Walworth County District Attorney’s Office.
Schulz, who works as a liaison between victims and criminal justice officials, said she contacts jail officials now to let them know when a victim wants notification upon release of an offender. After that, the Clerk of Courts’ Office picks up the obligations, Reiff said.
Victims can leave contact information in sealed envelopes in offenders’ criminal files. Clerks there check on cases, calling victims when there is a change on the custodial status of an offender.
Walworth County Jail Administrator Mike Schmitz said one of the advantages of having an automated system is preventing human error.
“And this program should also make things more efficient,” he added.
Graves said officials from the sheriff’s office are meeting Friday to discuss logistics of implementing the notification system.
Officials at the sheriff’s office are updating the office’s records system, which should be up and running by December. The notification program would be installed at that time to avoid installing it now and having to develop a new interface in December.