Report finds Colorados victim services programs, funders lack diversity

A Colorado nonprofit organization on Tuesday called for change after finding the state’s ecosystem for supporting victims in the aftermath of crime is dominated by groups and funders led and staffed largely by white people.

There’s a stark lack of diversity among the people making decisions about what organizations receive funding for victim services programs and among the organizations that are ultimately funded, according to a report released Tuesday by the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.

That lack of diversity continues all the way to the victims who receive services, the report found. Victim services in Colorado are mostly provided to white people, even though Black, Hispanic and Latino people are nationally more likely to be victims of crime.

“The glaring takeaway for us was the disparity in how the funding is administered and distributed, and the second glaring takeaway was the disparity as it relates to the decision-makers on the boards, and the commissions — the folks who are responsible for determining how this funding is allocated,” said Juston Cooper, deputy director at the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.

The Office for Victims Programs, which is part of the Colorado Department of Public Safety and distributes 95% of funding for victim services in the state, is about 74% white, while the Crime Victim Services Advisory Board, which recommends what organizations should receive grant money, is about 85% white, the report found. In the 2019 fiscal year, the agency dispersed about $70 million in grants to various organizations.

The organizations that were funded were also largely white-led and staffed by white employees, according to the report by the coalition, which is focused on reforming the state’s justice system.

“In order to provide culturally competent services, you have to have staff and decision-makers that reflect the population you are serving,” Cooper said. “What we are looking at in our state is not that.”

Kelly Kissell, unit manager for the Office of Victims Programs, said in a statement that the agency has already put in place or started to develop many of the report’s recommended changes.

“Equitable treatment of all victims is critically important and the Office for Victims Programs continues to analyze data and operationalize our findings to help ensure that marginalized communities have equal access to victim services and the agencies serving them have equal access to funding in Colorado,” she said.

Colorado’s Office for Victims Programs helped just over 116,000 victims of crime in the 2019 fiscal year, the report found. About 58% of those victims were white, 24% were Hispanic and 8% were Black, according to the report, which noted that some victims’ races were not recorded.

The state agency uses census data as a benchmark for measuring its racial equity, according to the report. Colorado’s overall population is about 65% white, 22% Hispanic or Latino, and 4.1% Black.

But that census data doesn’t reflect that, nationally, people of color are victims of crime at higher rates than white people, the report notes. The authors called on the agencies to adjust their benchmarks.

Kissell questioned the report’s reliance on national crime data, rather than Colorado-specific research.

“Serving Colorado’s unique victims’ needs is a top priority for the OVP, but using national crime data to draw conclusions in Colorado does not result in an accurate assessment or help address existing challenges for all victims of crime in our state,” she said in the statement.

Another state-run program, the Domestic Violence Program, which is under the Colorado Department of Human Services, was in charge of about $3 million in funding for victim services in the 2019 fiscal year, according to the report. About 51% of the 25,000 people served were white, according to the report.

Madlynn Ruble, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services, said in a statement that the Domestic Violence Program “is committed to finding ways to better reach and support vulnerable populations.”

The report did find one new program aimed specifically at serving people of color that has found success during its first 15 months, although it handles just a small fraction of the funding for victim services in the state. Community Crime Victim Services, under the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, helped just 268 victims, but 84% were people of color, according to the report.

The $1 million program, run by the Latino Coalition for Community Leadership, gave out six grants in the 2019 fiscal year, all to organizations run by people of color. Most of the organizations are largely staffed by non-white people as well, according to the report.

“The numbers are off the charts,” Cooper said. “They are showing there is an effective way of serving underserved victims of crime, especially men, Black men, people of color and young adults.”

The report made a variety of recommendations for improving the diversity of both victim services organizations and the people they reach, including taking steps to include more people of color in the decisions about where grant money is awarded. The authors said the state must invest more money into “aggressively addressing the equity gap” by prioritizing funding for diverse and community-based organizations.

“Leaders of color in the field emphasized the importance of having staff that look like the population served,” the report said. “While mainstream organizations absolutely can and should get better at serving communities of color, they cannot fully offer services to victims of color because they lack the experience of history and culture.”

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