RI Delegation Announces Over $6.6M to Support Survivors of Violent Crime & Enhance Forensic Science
WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to provide essential services to victims of violent crimes and survivors of sexual assault and bolster the state’s ability to process DNA evidence, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressman Seth Magaziner today announced new federal funding totaling $6,632,629 for the Rhode Island Department of Public Safety, the Rhode Island Department of Health, and Sojourner House.
The Rhode Island Department of Public Safety is receiving two federal grants totaling $5.58 million to support victims of violent crimes who suffer personal, physical, or emotional injury. These grants include a $4,795,700 award through the Victim Assistance Formula Grant Program, which is funded by the Victims of Crime Act’s (VOCA) Crime Victims Fund, and $786,929 through the Sexual Assault Services (SASP) Formula Grant Program. Federal SASP funds support rape crisis centers and organizations that provide services and assistance to victims of sexual violence and non-offending family and household members of victims. These funds will provide survivors and their families with support services and direct compensation as a result of their experiences with violent crime.
The Rhode Island Department of Health is receiving a $650,000 federal grant to increase efficiency and reduce the backlog of forensic DNA casework processed by the Forensic Sciences Laboratory (RIDOH-FSL). The laboratory serves numerous state agencies including state and municipal police, the Office of the State Medical Examiner, Attorney General, and other law enforcement agencies. These federal funds will support the hiring of two full-time Senior Forensic Scientists and will allow for additional overtime for all certified forensic analysts to process DNA casework. The RIDOH-FSL expects to reduce the casework backlog by at least 125 cases. Furthermore, this federal assistance will enable the laboratory to process incoming cases within an average 90-day time frame for non-violent crimes and 30 days for violent crimes.
Sojourner House, Inc. is receiving a $400,000 federal grant to provide critical legal assistance for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, or sexual assault. These funds will provide comprehensive direct legal services to victims in matters relating to or arising from abuse or violence. With this federal grant, Sojourner House will establish a program to provide legal representation in the areas of divorce, custody, housing and eviction, and labor law for eligible Rhode Islanders.
The federal grants are administered by the U.S. Department of Justice.
“We’ve got to invest in proven strategies that create a safer Rhode Island and help survivors of sexual violence and victims of violent crimes. This federal funding will help law enforcement effectively pursue perpetrators and bring them to justice while delivering needed assistance to victims and their families. It will help outstanding organizations like Sojourner House provide vital legal support to victims to ensure they are safe and heard in court and can access compensation. It will also boost DOH’s ability to swiftly and accurately process forensic evidence,” said Senator Reed.
“As a former U.S. Attorney and Attorney General, I’m particularly pleased to help secure federal funding to support the important services organizations like Sojourner House provide to survivors of sexual assault; and to secure funds to hold perpetrators accountable and clear DNA backlogs that delay justice from being served,” said Senator Whitehouse.
“We must do everything we can to support survivors, reduce violence, and keep Rhode Islanders safe,” said Rep. Seth Magaziner. “This federal funding will be used to achieve justice and expand vital resources for survivors of sexual violence and victims of violent crime – providing them with financial assistance, increasing access to support and legal services, and improving the processing of forensic evidence.”
In July 2021, Reed and Whitehouse helped to strengthen the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) by fixing how the Crime Victims Fund is funded. Both senators sponsored the VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund of 2021, which redirected monetary penalties from federal deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements into the Crime Victims Fund to provide additional non-taxpayer money for victim compensation and assistance programs in Rhode Island and across the country. This law helped to increase funding for Rhode Island’s Crime Victim Compensation Fund which is administered by the RI State Treasurer Office. From 2015 to 2023, Rep. Magaziner served as Rhode Island’s General Treasurer and successfully ran this program, helping more than 300 victims of domestic abuse relocate away from their abusers.
More than a dozen organizations based in Rhode Island receive VOCA funding to provide staffed drop-in centers, trauma services, emergency shelter, transitional housing, group counseling, individual therapy, law enforcement advocacy, grief counseling, transportation, protective services, medical services, behavioral health services, and court advocacy for restraining orders for victims and their children, among other services.
The RIDOH-FSL is divided into four sections: Drug Chemistry, Forensic Toxicology, Breath Analysis, and Forensic Biology/CODIS. The FSL is Rhode Island’s sole Forensic DNA laboratory and casework is submitted by more than 40 stakeholders. Database collections are carried out by FSL staff at the RI Adult Corrections Institution (ACI) as well as a separate probation collection office. Violent crime arrestee samples are collected by law enforcement personnel.
For over 45 years, Sojourner House has served thousands of victims and survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence, and human trafficking. The mission of Sojourner House is to promote healthy relationships by providing culturally sensitive support, advocacy, housing, and education for victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking; and to effect systems change.