new DOC victim notification service
Over the past several months, the Minnesota Department of Corrections Victim Assistance Program (MNDOC/VAP) has been working to develop a new web-based victim notification and information system called Minnesota Choice (MNCHOICE). We are pleased to announce that this service is now available at www.MinnesotaChoice.com.
About Minnesota CHOICE
MNCHOICE enables victims and advocates to not only request notification for offenders incarcerated at a MNDOC facility, but also to manage what information they receive and how they receive it.
Historically, victim notification has been an "information out" process where victims could only receive information. MNCHOICE allows victims to provide corrections staff with information to consider when developing offender re-entry plans. Victims can also register to participate in restorative justice opportunities such as receiving an offender apology letter or participating in a victim-offender dialogue or VOCARE (Victims, Offenders & Community - A Restorative Experience) Group.
With MNCHOICE, victims can request notification by US Mail, e-mail, or through a message center where they can go into the system and retrieve notices. The electronic system has the advantage of operating in "real time," but victims still have the option of using the US Mail system. This group will still have a MNCHOICE user account (with user-name and password) if simply to update their contact information should it change. Victims can always change their preferred method of notification.
Since the "go-live" date in November, MNCHOICE appears to be working well, although some changes are still pending to improve the web pages visually and give victims more clear-cut direction on where to go once in the system.
It is the MNDOC/VAP's hope that victims and advocates will quickly start using MNCHOICE to request notification instead of sending in the written request form.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why did the MNDOC/VAP develop the new system?
The previous system requiring victims to complete a paper form and mail in their notification request was cumbersome for victims as well as for advocates and corrections staff. In addition, the protocol required requests to be sent by US Mail and then, once received, the request "followed the offender" from facility to facility in the offender's confidential file, leaving room for postal service and/or human error when offender status changed. Further, victims did not have the option to provide input regarding re-entry through the old paper request system. MNCHOICE offers victims multiple options regarding both what information they receive and how they receive it. Victims will also be reminded bi-annually to verify their contact information in MNCHOICE. This will reduce the number of unsuccessful notifications sent to victims who have moved.
Will MNCHOICE be used for offenders who are incarcerated in county jails as well?
No. This system is for MNDOC-committed offenders only. Victims of offenders in a county jail or detention facility can register for release notification through Minnesota VINE, either through the website, VINELink, or by calling 877-664-8463.
Can individuals still use Minnesota VINE to search for an offender in a DOC facility?
Yes. Anyone can use Minnesota VINE to search for an offender who is in a DOC facility. If an individual then wishes to request notification, s/he will be directed to MNCHOICE.
Should victims still use the victim notification forms?
No. Victims should start registering for notification using the MNCHOICE website.
If the MNDOC receives an old victim notification form, the MNDOC/VAP will create an account for the victim in MNCHOICE; however, the process will be delayed because of the need to have a staff member create the account then contact the victim with their user-name and password and ask what notification method the victim prefers.
Can advocates register a victim through MNCHOICE?
Yes. Advocates can assist victims in registering through MNCHOICE.
Some advocates have already indicated that they will just register victims who ask them to do so. If advocates choose to register victims, it will be important for victims to understand how they can access the system and make any desired changes.
Can individuals who are not victims register with MNCHOICE?
Yes. For certain predatory offenders, however, the MNDOC/VAP will verify whether registrants are the actual victims to ensure they receive all appropriate notices.
What about victims who don't have access to computers or who prefer not to use an electronic system?
Victims without Internet access or who prefer to not to use the MNCHOICE website should contact the MNDOC/VAP to set up an account where communication will go through US Mail. The victim will never have to use the online account, but will still receive the information they requested. Like victims relying on MNCHOICE, victims relying on this US Mail must notify the MNDOC/VAP of changes to their contact information. Regardless of the preferred method chosen of communication, a MNCHOICE account will be established for every victim.
What about victims who have previously requested notification about current offenders using the old forms?
The MNDOC/VAP created accounts for existing victims in MNCHOICE. In October 2010, all victims who had previously requested notification were sent a letter from the MNDOC/VAP explaining the new system and asking them to verify their contact information. Over 50% of the victims responded to the letter; for those victims who did not respond and whose letters were not returned to our office, the MNDOC/VAP is assuming their contact information is accurate. For both these victim groups, the MNDOC/VAP created user accounts, but they will still receive notification by US Mail. On December 8, the MNDOC/VAP mailed a letter to all previously registered victims providing them with their user name and explaining that another letter with their account password would follow a few days later.
Need Your Help in Getting Accurate Victim Data
As a result of the October mailing to victims who had previously requested notification from the MNDOC, a number of victim letters were returned due to invalid addresses. The MNDOC/VAP did not create MNCHOICE accounts for those victims and will not continue to send notices to those addresses .
The MNDOC/VAP will be compiling lists, by county, of victims with returned correspondence and forwarding these lists to the county attorney's office that prosecuted the cases with a request for current victim contact information. If updated information is returned to the MNDOC/VAP by the counties, the MNDOC/VAP will make another attempt to contact the victim. If no updated information is returned, the MNDOC/VAP will not send any additional correspondence to the victim unless the victim provides updated information in the future.
Lydia Newlin, M.A.
Program Director, Victim Assistance & Restorative Justice Program
Minnesota Department of Corrections
1450 Energy Park Drive, Suite 200
St. Paul, MN 55108
Office - 651.361.7249
Cell - 651.295.2589
Minnesota DOC Victim Assistance Program