(Alex Schmidt/Shutterstock) Credit: Alex Schmidt / Shutterstock

Crime victims in Connecticut have already made more requests for state financial assistance than during any previous year on the books, the director of the Office of Victim Services said Friday.

The office, part of the state judicial branch, manages a compensation program for crime victims. Through a combination of federal funding and fees, fines and forfeitures by Connecticut residents, the program assists victims and their families with things like out of pocket medical and counseling expenses, salary lost due to injury or court appearances, crime scene clean up, security measures, and in some cases funeral expenses. 

What is covered under the program has changed over the years and the office has conducted outreach with nonprofit groups aimed at increasing awareness of the assistance. Together those things can make it somewhat difficult to draw one-to-one comparisons between years. But on Friday, director Linda Cimino said applications for assistance in 2021 had already surpassed every previous year. 

“Applications received will be at a 40 plus year high,” Cimino said during a phone interview. “We’ve never taken in this many applications in a given calendar year before.”

As of Wednesday, the office had received 1,728 applications. With more than a month left in the year, Cimino said she expected to be well into the 1,800s by the end of December. The previous high water mark came in 2018 when the office received 1,695 applications over the full year. Prior to that, the highest number of claims came in 1991 when 1,595 applications were filed but significantly fewer people were eligible for assistance at that time, meaning the figure likely underrepresents the number of crime victims by today’s standards. 

This year, the program has a budget of $2.8 million and can pay out benefits up to $15,000 for a personal injury claim, $5,000 for an emotional injury claim, and up to $25,000 in benefits to help the family members of homicide victims. 

As of October, Cimino said family members of 126 homicide victims had applied for assistance. That number is consistent with last year’s figures at the same time. However, Cimino said applications in other categories like personal injury claims had risen. 

Cimino said she believed the spike in applications fielded by her office were attributable to a general rise in crime. 

“We really do feel across the board from assaults to homicides to domestic violence, sexual assault, the numbers are up,” Cimino said. 

The numbers come amidst an ongoing debate among state policymakers over crime, which has risen in Connecticut and elsewhere during the pandemic. For months, Republicans have pushed for a special legislative session on crime, particularly aimed at enacting stricter policies for repeat youth offenders. Democrats have generally argued that criminal justice statistics suggest that Connecticut’s policies are not to blame, saying the state is among the safest in the nation.