Unfair Punishment Part One: Victim Discrimination 

A state program that's supposed to help crime victims denies people who have had run-ins with the law or are afraid of being victimized again.

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"Simply put, it's just not fair," said Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods. "I don't honestly understand the rationale as to why the victim of a crime who is on probation or parole is not entitled to the same compensation as someone who's not."

The policy "uniquely disadvantages people from underserved communities," added Kimberly Horiuchi, attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, arguing that it's wrong for the state to make judgments about who is worthy and who is not. "Victims are victims. Rape is rape."

Gordon said her office has no data on the number of felony parolees and probationers who seek compensation. She said the most common reasons for denial include an incomplete application, a submission outside of the required filing period or from someone out-of-state, a request from a victim of a non-violent crime, and an applicant having participated in the crime or refused to cooperate with police.

But some victims may not even fill out an application once they learn the program is not available to them. "They already know the door is slammed in their face," said Ida McCray, director of Families With A Future, an organization affiliated with the San Francisco-based nonprofit Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. "We get the message. It's 'we don't give a fuck about y'all.' We are used to the wounds."

The policy limiting this fund to a certain class of people also serves to reinforce deep prejudices against those with criminal records. "It perpetuates the lie that someone's humanity ends once they get a conviction," said Eliza Hersh, director of the Clean Slate Practice at the East Bay Community Law Center. "People who suffer are people who suffer regardless of their supervision status or past mistakes."

For those rejected, a denial is not simply a financial inconvenience. Rogers, who is now a program assistant for the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, which is based in San Francisco, was unable to find a new place to live after her boyfriend beat her savagely in 2010. Even though she got an emergency restraining order against him, he repeatedly harassed her by phone after the incident, seemingly trying to convince her not to press charges, she said. Rogers' apartment was also in a complex where her boyfriend's family lived, giving them an opportunity to keep tabs on her activities and report back to her estranged partner, she added.

"He knows everywhere I go," she said. Rogers wanted to move to Sacramento or Los Angeles where she had family. And Victim Compensation offers up to $2,000 for relocation, which could have helped her pay for transportation, first month's rent, and a security deposit. "I would've had that opportunity to relocate and get a fresh new start," she said.

Without the financial aid, Rogers stayed in Stockton, started using drugs again, and by April, just two months after the incident, was living on the streets.

The exclusion of people on parole and probation appears to be rooted in a belief that people who commit crimes cannot then become victims, too. Notably, the statute outlining Victim Compensation eligibility states that people who have been convicted of a felony should be considered a lower priority than non-felons. Wayne Strumpfer, chief counsel of the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board, said this part of the law currently has no practical application, and that once off parole and probation, applicants with felonies on their records are treated the same as others. Still, the language reflects an ingrained bias against people with criminal records — a fact that today can play out in ways beyond the ban on parolees and probationers.

Ruben Leal was shot on October 11, 2010 in East Oakland. Leal, then 22 years old, suffered a collapsed lung and fractured shinbone and temporarily had to use a wheelchair. Two days after the shooting, his life got a lot worse. On October 13, 2010, the City of Oakland held a press conference announcing that it was seeking an injunction against 42 alleged members of the Fruitvale "criminal street gang" known as the Norteños. Leal, who was born and raised in Oakland and had been taking classes at Laney College at the time, was named as one of the gang members. The Oakland City Attorney's Office, with support from the Oakland Police Department, was seeking a civil restraining order that would restrict the activity of the named defendants. Leal said he was not involved with the gang at the time of the injunction.

"Me being shot was used as evidence for the gang injunction," said Leal, who is now 25 and works as an outreach coordinator with Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice. As part of the injunction, OPD officer Douglass Keely filed a declaration outlining each defendant's criminal history and evidence of gang ties. Summarizing Leal's involvement, Keely noted that the East Oakland resident had been injured in a drive-by incident in which as many as twelve rounds were fired. The report also listed Leal's criminal history — all minor incidents that OPD said tied him to the Norteños gang. (The report mentioned a "pending" felony case, but prosecutors eventually dropped those charges against Leal.)

After the shooting, the officer that showed up to his home to talk to him about the incident was Keely, Leal recalled. "This is the same guy that wants to put this gang injunction on me. This guy wants to talk to me?"


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