Victims in Arkansas who incur expenses related to injuries and suffering as the result of violent crime have an outlet for compensation, but the Arkansas Crime Victims Reparations Board sits on a months-long backlog of cases exacerbated by the pandemic.
In some cases, victims don’t hear from the board for months.
Heather Baker, president and publisher of AY Media Group, which publishes this website, has waited 150 days since filing a claim in the aftermath of a Nov. 12 incident in which she and her boyfriend, Ryan Parker, were targeted in an apparent carjacking in the Heights neighborhood of Little Rock.
Baker’s car was struck with more than 30 rounds of gunfire and ultimately totaled, and she was grazed by at least one bullet. Baker considers it a miracle that neither she nor Parker were killed. Both have been through months of therapy sessions, and Baker filed the claim to offset some of the expenses.
She told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that many violent crime victims simply don’t have the resources to pay for therapy, regardless of whether they will be compensated. Board chair Janice Church stressed in the report that the victims reparations program was created as a “token,” a recourse for victims who have no money coming their way through insurance or other outlets to cover medical bills or a funeral.
Still, Baker wants to find a way to deliver help to victims sooner.
“There has to be a way to get therapy for people quicker, because that’s going to be how you stop people from falling apart,” Baker told the newspaper. She suggested a collaboration with pre-approved therapy offices that could offer the necessary services while victims’ cases were being deliberated.
State Sen. Kim Hammer (R-Benton) and other state legislators have reached out to Baker since the incident and inquired about the reparation process, she said. Hammer told the Democrat-Gazette that he wasn’t very familiar with the reparations board until Baker’s case. He is considering whether the all-volunteer board faces too much of a challenge keeping up with a rising crime rate.
Hammer asked, “Are we asking them to do an insurmountable job?”
In addition to the slow process time, Baker said the limit imposed by the board on mental health payments is too low. Under state law, reparations are capped at $10,000, except in cases that result in extreme injury and disability where awards of $25,000 are possible. For mental health treatment alone, the amount is capped at $2,500. The money received by victims can be used for medical bills, therapy, funeral expenses and other related costs.
Those eligible for compensation include victims of a violent crime; minor children of eligible victims; spouses, parents, siblings and grandparents of eligible victims; non-immediate family members who resided in the same household as a deceased victim; individuals who discover a homicide victim’s body; anyone injured by an act of terrorism outside the United States; and Arkansas residents victimized in another state that does not have a compensation program.
A division of the Arkansas Department of Public Safety, the board is funded through fees collected from criminal offenders as well as state and federal grants. But Gov. Asa Hutchinson has pledged $2.3 million annually from the state’s general budget beginning July 1. The board also is expecting a $1.1 million federal grant later this year.
Meanwhile, Baker’s case remains open, both at the Little Rock Police Department and the reparations board. There have been no new updates from LRPD on the case and Baker hasn’t heard from the board.