Minnesota to Expand Victim Notification System

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Peace of mind could be just a telephone call away for crime victims around the state by the end of the year, according to state officials.

That's when a new automated telephone system will be expanded statewide to notify victims and other interested people when criminals are released from jail or state prison.

The VINE system, for Victim Information and Notification Everyday, provides updated arrest and custody data by telephone 24 hours a day. It has been used for about three years in Scott County and went online Monday in Douglas County.

Other counties will follow over the next year.

To be notified, a crime victim or any interested person must register by calling 1-877-664-8463. There is no charge. The caller is given an identification number and enters an offender's name or Social Security number to get updated information. The victim will be notified the day an offender is released.

VINE is already used in 39 states and parts of Canada, said Mary Ellison, executive director of the Minnesota Center for Crime Victim Services.

She said VINE also helps the criminal justice system, which until now has been responsible for calling victims when offenders are released.

Operated by Appriss Inc., the system will be paid for with up to $550,000 in federal money, Ellison said. Counties only have to pay for their staff time to connect a new computer to their jail booking system.

By making such information available "we give victims a voice in the justice process," said Charlie Weaver, the Public Safety commissioner. "We understand the importance of information to crime victims."

A woman who used VINE in Scott County said it gave her a sense of security to know when her assailant, a former boyfriend, was in or out of jail.

The 23-year-old woman, who asked not to be named because she still fears the man, said she obtained an order for protection against him after a domestic assault a few years ago. But he continued to threaten her for months by phone and at her home, where she lived alone.

"It was very helpful to know I could call any time of day to see if he was in jail or not," she said. "He knew I knew when he was out, and I would not go around town when he was out."

Ellison said the system continues to notify victims even if they move to another state, as long as they leave a current phone number. However, if a released inmate moves to a county or state that doesn't use VINE, the automated notice ends.

All 87 Minnesota counties have been notified and none objected to joining the system, which is voluntary, she said. She expects most counties to be online by the end of the year. County detention facilities, including workhouses, will be included.

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