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Blacks More Likely Than Whites To Be Denied Crime Victim Aid

Every state reimburses crime victims for lost wages, medical bills, funerals and other expenses, awarding hundreds of millions in aid each year. An Associated Press examination found that Black victims and their families are disproportionately denied compensation in many states, often for subjective reasons that experts say are rooted in racial biases.

AP found disproportionately high denial rates in 19 out of 23 states willing to provide detailed racial data. In some states, including Indiana, Georgia and South Dakota, Black applicants were nearly twice as likely as white applicants to be denied. From 2018 through 2021, the denials affected thousands of Black families each year that collectively missed out on millions of dollars in aid.

The reasons for the disparities are complex. Eligibility rules vary state. Experts — including leaders of some of the programs — point to a few common factors:

--State employees reviewing applications often base decisions on information from police reports and follow-up questionnaires that seek officers’ opinions of victims’ behavior — both of which may contain biased descriptions of events.

--Those same employees may be influenced by their own biases when reviewing events that led to victims’ injuries or deaths. A review of the facts may morph into an assessment of victims’ perceived culpability.

--Many state guidelines were designed decades ago with biases that benefited victims who would make the best witnesses, disadvantaging those with criminal histories, unpaid fines or addictions, among others.

As the criminal justice system reckons with institutional racism in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd, compensation programs are beginning to scrutinize how their policies affect people of color.

“We have this long history in victims services in this country of fixating on whether people are bad or good,” said Elizabeth Ruebman, an expert with a national network of victims-compensation advocates and a former adviser to New Jersey’s attorney general.

As a result, Black and brown applicants tend to face more scrutiny because of implicit biases, Ruebman said.

In some states examined by AP, such as New York and Nebraska, the denial rates for Black and white applicants weren’t far apart. The data revealed bias in other ways: While white families were more likely to be denied for administrative reasons, such as missing deadlines or seeking aid for crimes that aren’t covered, Black families were more likely to be denied for subjective reasons, such as whether they may have said or done something to provoke a violent crime.

While interviewing people for a story on gun violence in Philadelphia, AP heard from victim after victim that they had received a form letter denying them access to funds. In many cases, the state said they or their loved one had contributed to their own victimization.


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