N.C. Department of Correction--Correction News--January 1998

Advocates Aid Crime Victims

A dental assistant working at Triangle Correctional Center was strangled to death in the prison May 19, 1975. It was a moment that will live with Mel Chilton forever. The dental assistant was her mother.

Her experiences led Chilton to work in the criminal justice system and to find ways to better serve crime victims. She is an eight-year veteran of the Division of Adult Probation and Parole, where she has served as a parole officer, a pre-parole investigator and an administrative officer.

Today she works as DAPP’s Judicial District 10 Victim Advocate, one of two such DOC positions funded by grant.

Anita Culbreth represents the other, Judicial District 3B, and both women work with targeted victims whose offenders are under DAPP supervision.

"We owe crime victims basic information and the courtesy of giving them answers to questions about their case," Chilton said. "We can’t give them their money. We can’t make the probationer pay. We can’t justify or fix the tragedy that may have happened in their lives. But we can provide them information and facts that are within the realm of the law."

Chilton and department employees working with victims have led several workshops helping correction employees better understand the needs of crime victims.

Victims have difficulty understanding the criminal justice system and getting information from criminal justice agencies.

"It may be a very simple crime, but to that victim it is a traumatic event in their life and it is overwhelming to them at that point," Chilton said. "When speaking to correction staff, victims may speak very negatively. They may be very attacking in their method of speaking, but that comes out of their frustration and is not a personal attack of the employee. They are upset with the circumstance, not the person they’re talking to."

Mel Chilton,
Judicial District 10
Victim Advocate

Chilton advises to treat persons with compassion and respect and listen to what they are saying. "If you don’t have the answer, courteously tell them you will try to find the information," she said. "If its confidential, tell them you can’t provide it."

Chilton has also worked with other crime victims and criminal justice professionals to form HALOS, Helping All Loved Ones Survive. The first meeting of the support group drew 40 people.

"Its an ultimate dream to see something like that happen for other victims because I know how traumatic my situation was 20 years ago and there was nowhere to turn," Chilton said. "People have called from across the state. It was an incredible response. We’re hoping to branch out and have other HALOS groups across North Carolina."

Chilton says she’s looking forward to the state’s implementation of the victims rights amendment and to her continuing work in the department encouraging employees to work with crime victims.

NC DOC Correction News- January 1998
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