‘We ought to fix:’ Kentucky crime victims aren’t getting automatic court notifications 

by Sarah Ladd, Kentucky Lantern

Kentucky crime victims are no longer getting automated notifications regarding their cases, Henderson County Attorney Steve Gold told members of the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary Thursday. 

The Victim Information and Notification Everyday or VINE  system has proved “an essential life saving tool for victims of crime” in the past, Gold told lawmakers. 

 Steve Gold (Henderson County website)

VINE sent automatic emails and texts and made phone calls to a victim when an inmate was released or escaped from custody, when emergency protective orders were served or when court dates changed. That meant victims didn’t have to rely on a real life person’s schedule to ensure they were up to date on their case. 

“It doesn’t work anymore,” Gold said — at least not fully. The EPO and custody parts work, but not court dates. (Victims and survivors are still notified, but not automatically). 

“It’s something we absolutely ought to fix,” said Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Fruit Hill, who co-chairs the committee. 

In September 2021, Gold testified, “data sharing between the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts and VINE ended and victims were no longer able to receive or sign up for court notice information.” 

“While prosecutors and victims advocates do all that we can do to keep victims as informed as possible, it’s increasingly impossible since automated notification has gone away,” Gold said. “We should continue to improve and innovate. It’s 2023. Our victims can get automatic texts telling them that their Amazon package is 10 houses away. They should once again be able to get one when a court date changes.” 

 Katie Comstock (KET Screenshot)

Katie Comstock, the executive director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, said that “AOC believes in and supports victims and victim notification.” 

And she agreed that VINE “did work.” 

But, she told lawmakers, a concern emerged in 2020 and 2021 that victim and charge data may be monetized or not sufficiently protected. 

The system vendor “essentially wanted more of a data dump,” Comstock said. “It wasn’t specific to victims for certain offenses. They wanted all of the court data and it was a very broad net.” 

AOC signed an agreement with the notifications vendor in 2021 requiring the latter to delete data after searches were made. 

But within four months “we learned from the vendor that they were unwilling or unable to delete” it. They instead moved the data to another database, Comstock said. 

So, AOC suspended its memorandum of understanding with the vendor, she said. It is now working on possible solutions or alternatives to notification. 

But that’s “not acceptable,” said committee member Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Middletown. “This should be fixed by Friday. That’s tomorrow. Go into court today. Hold them accountable to the agreement that they’ve already signed, which you think is acceptable.” 

“You got an agreement that you like,” Nemes said. “If they won’t do their job, sue them, but get it done. Now.” 

Photo: Adobe Stock