CHARLESTON — West Virginia has strengthened an important tool that supports, protects and empowers crime victims and survivors by providing timely and reliable offender information.

The state’s Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation has expanded the Victim Information and Notification Everyday — called the VINE — network to all 10 regional jails. It has also adopted VINE’s new and enhanced features for all correctional facilities including prisons.

 “It is very important for safety, for victims to be notified or to be able to know when the offender is getting back onto the street or has posted bond,” said Commissioner Betsy Jividen.

Appriss Safety is the developer of VINE, a free service that allows victims to anonymously check an offender’s custody status by phone, internet and mobile app. Victims can also receive real-time alerts of changes to an offender’s custody status by registering for notifications by app, phone, email, and text.

 “They can rest easy at night, knowing where the perpetrator is,” said Tonia Thomas, a team coordinator with the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “And when perpetrators get released, they can also prepare for that release and maybe prepare for their safety and take extra precautions.”

Enhanced VINE offers users innovative functionality and expanded access to victim services. West Virginia began extending VINE to the regional jails in May. It completed that process with the final 2 jails last week.

“Appriss is very proud to expand our partnership with the West Virginia DCR and introduce this new suite of VINE features to crime victims throughout the state,” said Josh Bruner, Appriss Safety president. “We are thrilled that the citizens of West Virginia are now able to benefit from a more streamlined user experience, and that we are able to increase accessibility to victim-centered services that will help guide them on their road to recovery.”

The enhanced system’s new features include an interactive VINE Service Provider Directory that allows users seeking assistance to connect directly with both local and national victim service providers. To date, 16 West Virginia service providers have joined the VINE Service Provider Directory.

West Virginia’s rape crisis centers have long worked with VINE, which corrections first adopted in 2002. The network has become part of their safety planning for sexual assault victims, said State Coordinator Nancy Hoffman of the W.Va. Foundation for Rape Information and Services, Inc.

“As the state’s sexual assault coalition, we applaud the expansion of VINE to include the regional jails,” Hoffman said. “Sexual assault cases often have a lengthy process through the criminal justice system. Safety is of paramount concern to victims of sexual violence, and knowing when an offender charged with sexual assault is released from jail on bond prior to a trial enables victims to plan for their safety and take additional precautions (such as protective orders) as needed.”

Kanawha County Sheriff Mike Rutherford said VINE goes hand-in-hand with his office’s Victims Services Unit and that of other law enforcement agencies.

“It’s one of the most important jobs we have, to help the victims of various crimes, particularly the more personal type of crime such as domestic violence or sexual assault,” Rutherford said. “Even breaking into your home or business can be devastating to a lot of people. Once you’re the victim of a crime, it’s really something that affects you deeply, it affects your family, it affects everything you do.”

The recent consolidation of West Virginia’s correctional system helped facilitate VINE’s expansion, which required no state funding thanks to federal Victims of Crime Act grants.

For more information

• To access the enhanced West Virginia VINE service: www.vinelink.com.

• Free VINELink mobile app: apprisssafety.com/solutions/vine/vinemobile

• Victim Services, W.Va. Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation: dcr.wv.gov/services/victimservices/Pages/default.aspx

• W.Va. Coalition Against Domestic Violence: http://wvcadv.org

• W.Va. Foundation for Rape Information and Services: www.fris.org

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