For James McCurtis, the VINE program manager for the state of Michigan, his mission is clear: to do everything he can to help crime victims and survivors of domestic violence be “made whole.” That process can take years and is often both emotionally taxing and logistically confusing for survivors. They can feel out of the loop during the legal process, and there are numerous logistical challenges once their case is brought to court.
Even after victims get their say in court and their offender is convicted, a long road to recovery may await them – a road that can be fraught with anxiety and fear regarding their offender’s incarceration status. "Has he been released?" "Is he being moved from one prison to another?" "Will I even know?"
For more than 20 years, victims and survivors in Michigan have had many of these fears assuaged by VINE, Appriss’ flagship victim notification system that has been keeping victims informed nationwide for more than a quarter century. VINE makes it easy for victims and concerned citizens to obtain timely and reliable information about criminal cases and the custody status of offenders held in local jails or state prisons.
James McCurtis currently serves as VINE’s program manager, or the point person in the state for all issues related to the VINE service. And he has heard first-hand how valuable peace of mind can be for victims.
“MI-VINE helps victims stay safe, helps them be whole, and gives them a sense of comfort,” McCurtis said. “Our relationship with Appriss has always been stellar. We want to make sure our partnership is continuously growing and that we continue doing the service of keeping victims safe. That's what victims deserve – they deserve to know what goes on in courts during the adjudication process, and we want them to know the latest about their offender’s incarceration status so they can stay informed and safe.”
The latest VINE features increase value for victims
Recently, Michigan became the 21st state to implement the newest version of VINE, the leading victim notification network in the United States – an announcement that received local media coverage. The newest MI-VINE service offers users innovative functionality, an improved user experience, and expanded access to victim services. The VINE service is entirely free for users.
The increased accessibility through the mobile app is an important improvement for VINE users in Michigan, which has large rural areas with limited internet access. Another key feature is the MI-VINE Service Provider Directory, which allows users to seek assistance and connect directly with both local and national victim service providers.
“I get a lot of testimonials from advocates who work directly with victims, and they always talk about how valuable the VINE system is for victims,” McCurtis said. “They hear those stories from victims all the time. Without this system, they don't know what they would do. It gives victims comfort, safety, and allows them to sleep at night. It gives them the ability to move forward and not have to look over their shoulder every time they are out and about.”
Strong partnerships enhance service to victims
The smooth transition to the new version of VINE is only the latest example of the strong relationship between Appriss and the Michigan Division of Victim Services.
McCurtis spoke glowingly of his partnership with various Appriss client relationship managers, or CRMs, over the years, including Jonathon Waunch, Jarrod Carnahan, and currently, Emily Staples-Kamer, noting that they have “always been there and available when we need help.”
On the rare occasion of a system outage or notification issue, McCurtis said the Appriss team is always quick to resolve it.
“When we have challenges or when a problem arises – and there is no perfect system – Appriss is on top of it right away, working to ensure clarity and making sure the process within the system is working in a way that is beneficial to all victims and Michigan residents,” McCurtis said.
McCurtis also appreciates and has benefitted from the VINE Conference, which was his opportunity to meet with the whole VINE support team at Appriss and other program managers like him.
The Appriss team also assists with the MI-VINE annual conference for victim advocates, where VINE Training Manager Karen Adams facilitates training demonstrations, highlights the new features, and shows the many ways VINE benefits victims. The client relationship manager also answers advocates’ questions and brainstorms with the program manager ways Appriss can improve the VINE service even more.
Appriss’s training team, comprised of Karen Adams and Jared Beek, VINE Marketing and Training Specialist, recently partnered with McCurtis for a webinar about the newest version of MI-VINE, which was attended by 115 victim advocates and jail administrators. In written feedback to the webinar, one attendee noted: “It was helpful to be reminded of how the purpose and value of VINELink and we will now ensure that our program information is listed in the Service Provider Directory.”
The many touchpoints between Appriss and the Michigan Division of Victim Services consistently highlight the value of VINE to victims and the strong collaboration between the two organizations – a relationship that will only grow over time.
“Appriss has always been a great partner when it comes to MI-VINE,” McCurtis said. “The key ingredient when it comes to a strong relationship is good communication, and Appriss has always been in good communication with us. They've always kept us up to speed and treated us like family.”