Helping Crime Victims Access Legal Services

Logo of Lone Star Legal Aid, with name over Texas flag.

The Crime Victims’ Institute at Sam Houston State University will assist Lone Star Legal Aid in the development of a model program that will expand legal assistance and restorative services available to victims in Texas and nationwide.

Lone Star Legal Aid (LSLA) is a non-profit law firm providing free legal services to eligible applicants. Lone Star is the fourth largest service provider of legal aid in the country, covering one-third of the state of Texas and four counties in southwest Arkansas. LSLA staff attorneys handle about 17,000 cases a year, including some 6,000 cases related to crime ranging from elder abuse to real estate fraud, from sex crimes to identity theft and consumer scams. The Crime Victims Institute (CVI) is one of two research partners that will help assess existing services as well as identify the specific needs of victims within the agency’s 72-county coverage area.

A crime victim points out the suspect in court.“The Crime Victims' Institute at Sam Houston State University is very much looking forward to working with Lone Star Legal Aid and the Public Policy Research Institute on a project of such importance to crime victims,” said Dr. Leana Bouffard, Director of CVI. “We share LSLA's commitment to gaining a better understanding of what legal services crime victims need and developing programs to ensure that necessary legal services are provided.”

Lone Star Legal Aid is one of six nonprofits in the nation selected by the U.S. Department of Justice for a grant to develop a model policy.

Illustration of identity theft, with hand coming out of a computer to steal credit and social security cards.“Lone Star will be leading the first known study of this type in Texas,” said Paul Furrh, Jr., LSLA’s Chief Executive Officer. “From this research, LSLA will develop the model for a Texas Crime Victims Civil Legal Assistance Network to significantly improve the level of support for crime victims. The templates designed by this project team have the potential to become a model for not only Texas, but the nation, in serving the unmet legal needs of crime victims.”

The Crime Victims Institute and the Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A & M University will help to identify unmet legal needs of crime victims by conducting intensive research via community focus groups, victim interviews and telephone surveys. That data will serve as the springboard to develop a network of providers that wrap around the existing work of social service agencies.

In 2011, about 25 percent of cases handled by Lone Star Legal Aid involved crime victims who needed legal assistance to help recover property lost through fraud, replace vital legal documents, clear up identity theft issues, obtain protective or other orders against abusers and prevent future crimes against themselves or their families.

Lit outline of a person, with an ominous dark hands inside of it.In addition to Lone Star Legal Aid, there are other agencies that can provide legal services to help limit damages or restore victims, but access to those specific services are often outside the capabilities of public safety officers or victim advocates.

"Crime is an unwelcome fact of life—and Texans who’ve been victimized need considerable help to mitigate the damage and move on with their lives” said Debra Wray, LSLA’s Director of Advocacy and Project Director. “Victims of crime often have legal and financial injuries that require a lawyer to address. Left unattended, the fallout can be devastating: homes and savings lost, health and peace of mind shattered. By linking legal services with other victim service providers, the goal is to create a seamless continuum of services that victims can easily and effectively access. ”

Working in collaboration with LSLA, the Crime Victims’ Institute began research in November, with a plan expected to be developed within 15 months. The Steering Committee for the project includes multidisciplinary agencies, including the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas; Catholic Charities’ Cabrini Center for Immigrant Legal Assistance; the City of Houston Mayor’s Crime Victims Assistance Office; Houston Police Department-Victim Services Unit; State Bar of Texas-Poverty Law Section; Texas Department of Public Safety Victim Services Project; Texas Access to Justice Commission and Foundation; University of Houston Law Center and the YMCA International Services of Houston.

Closeup of the sad face of a senior citizen at a window.

Lone Star Legal Aid (www. LoneStarLegal. org) is the fourth largest provider of free legal aid in the United States. Headquartered in Houston with offices in Angleton, Beaumont, Galveston, and nine other cities across Southeast and East Texas, LSLA serves a 60,000-square-mile swath of Texas from Lampass to the Louisiana state Line, from Matagorda Bay to Texarkana. LSLA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that protects and advances the civil legal rights of low-income Texans by providing advocacy, legal representation and community education to ensure equal access to justice.

Member of The Texas State University System