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NCJ 248495 • December 2014   

Key Themes

Needs Assessments

VOCA assistance and state compensation programs conduct needs assessments for a number of reasons. A needs assessment can help a program—

  • Identify the types of services crime victims currently receive.
  • Pinpoint gaps in services.
  • Reveal factors that discourage victims from accessing services.
  • Document new or developing needs related to changing demographics.
  • Coordinate funding decisions across multiple state and federal funding streams.

Surveys, interviews, and focus groups are among the most common techniques used in needs assessment.

Program Spotlight


The Arizona Criminal Justice Commission requested an independent review of the Arizona Crime Victim Compensation Program by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University. The review looked at factors influencing a decrease in the number of new claims submitted by victims and a corresponding decrease in the total amount of compensation benefits paid annually. The Morrison Institute’s findings and recommendations were among several influential factors prompting the commission in 2012 to draft new rules for the Arizona Crime Victim Compensation Program. Rule changes were based on recommendations that—

  • A state agency be developed to train members of county-based compensation boards, which should be professionalized or meet state training requirements. New program rules require board members to complete state training within 6 months of appointment.
  • English and Spanish versions of the application should appear on the same page. The current application includes Spanish and English text in a single document.
  • Each county attorney’s office should staff a dedicated compensation position to assist victims with compensation claims and provide updates on the status of their cases. The commission is reviewing the current allocation of state administrative funds and matching county funds to determine if they are sufficient to support dedicated victim compensation positions at the county level.


Through strategic planning efforts and discussions with partners, the Colorado Office for Victims Programs explored ways to reduce administrative work and the number of meetings taking program managers and executive directors away from their organizations. Ultimately, three statewide advisory boards that recommended funding for services to crime victims were merged into a single Crime Victim Services Advisory Board. As a result, victim services programs, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors’ offices, tribes, and other organizations that serve victims of crime need to complete only one application for all types of funding. The state’s consolidated grant funding process enables these entities to apply for VOCA, STOP Violence Against Women Act, Sexual Assault Services Program, and state Victim Assistance and Law Enforcement funds with a single application.

District of Columbia

A needs assessment prompted DC SAFE in the District of Columbia to use non-communal dispersed shelters to assist victims of domestic violence. The SAFE program leases condominiums and apartments for 1 to 2 years at a modest rate. The program, which has a presence at the courthouse, offers 20 days of immediate crisis shelter for families who are at the highest risk of being killed or seriously injured by their abuser. The safe, quiet, confidential units are fully furnished and provide the basic necessities for a family coming to SAFE immediately following a violent incident. The program also maintains a 24/7 response line. If a caller scores high on a lethality assessment, program staff respond within hours to get the victim to safety, even in the middle of the night. Wraparound services such as relocation into safe housing and enhanced counseling for the victim and her children then start the next morning.


In 2011, the Crime Victim Assistance Division (CVAD) in the Iowa Office of the Attorney General faced significant reductions in both federal and state funding for victim service organizations. Rather than reduce grant amounts and fund services on limited budgets, CVAD worked with sexual assault and domestic violence coalitions, service providers, and community members to reassess whether the service delivery system still met victims’ needs. It found that programs were reaching only about 8 percent of all estimated sexual assault victims; 40 percent of the total funds allocated to shelter-based services were being used by only 11 percent of the victims served. Shelter vacancy rates were about 42 percent statewide, resulting in roughly $3.3 million in unused emergency shelter beds annually. With assistance from the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and others, CVAD is working to modernize Iowa’s victim services to be more cost-effective, sustainable, and client-focused. They also are addressing inequitable distribution of funds statewide, the quality of services for both urban and rural areas, and victims’ needs for permanent and long-term housing options.


The Sexual Assault Resource Analysis (SARA) Project was funded by the Crime Victim Services Commission of the Michigan Department of Community Health. Its affiliation with Michigan State University gives the SARA Project access to resources for conducting systematic analyses of Michigan’s sexual assault services, including medical forensic exams, and providing updates on services to state policymakers. The project team includes professional researchers and graduate students, which helps reduce costs. The team uses resource mapping and other advanced techniques to identify areas in Michigan that do not have adequate sexual assault programming. The SARA Project has made recommendations for improving services and shifting how services are delivered, and developed and provided evidence-based training. It also published a guide to additional evidence-based training for law enforcement, medical staff, and victim advocates.


Staff at the Minnesota Office of Justice Programs (OJP) monitor programs for compliance with Best Practices Guidelines for Crime Victim Programs. Grantees conduct a self-assessment based on the guidelines, meet with Minnesota OJP staff to set goals, and report regularly back to the staff. Indicators of a healthy organization include—

  • A strong volunteer program.
  • Robust strategic planning.
  • Strong relationships with the community and the criminal justice system.
  • Well-trained staff .


Similar to efforts in Minnesota,Washington’s Office of Crime Victims Advocacy developed Indicators of Successful Programs as benchmarks of healthy victim services organizations for VOCA-funded programs

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Office for Victims of Crime
810 Seventh Street NW., Washington, DC 20531
The Office for Victims of Crime is a component of the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.