NEW ORLEANS - Winston Hayes, Jr. was just 3 years old when he died. A family friend was supposed to take him to daycare, but instead left him inside a scorching car for hours.
Three years later, his grandmother, Robin Hayes, still mourns his loss.
“It was like, ‘I cannot believe something like this happened,’” she said.
But the shock didn't end there. Every state has a multi-million dollar Crime Victims Reparations Fund designed to help innocent victims and their families pay for certain expenses if a crime results in injury or death.
When Hayes applied for help with funeral expenses through the Crime Victims Reparations Fund, she felt her family was victimized all over again.
“This process is unfair, it's unfair, it's arduous. It makes no sense,” said said. “At one point I was going to give up.”
Victim's advocacy groups say Hayes is not alone. A recently released report ranks Louisiana second to last in the country when it comes to compensating victims.
The report, commissioned by the Justice Fellowship, took the amount of money directly paid to victims in 2012 and divided it by the number of violent crimes reported.
It found Louisiana paid an average of $62 per victim, well below the national average of $295 per victim.
The report argues that many people either don’t know about the program or don’t meet strict qualifications.
“They give families such a difficult time, and they scrutinize them so horribly, that folks are not interested in participating,” said Tamara Jackson, executive director of the New Orleans-based victim’s advocacy group Silence is Violence.
The Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice runs the state's program, and every parish sheriff’s office has a claims investigator that operates the program locally and makes recommendations to an 11-member board. The board meets once a month in Baton Rouge to decide whether a victim should get funding.
The study is misleading because not every crime victim is eligible, argues Bob Wertz, the commission's’s criminal justice policy planner
“You can have a number of people who are victims of crime but if they contributed or if they themselves were an offender but they were also victims too, that also happens occasionally, we would not compensate them anything at ,” said Wertz.
According to state documents, the average payout for qualified applicants is $3,000 dollars. The typical wait time is two to three months, said Wertz, but it can be much longer if an application is missing paperwork.
Hayes ultimately received compensation, but it took several months and multiple trips to Baton Rouge.
Among qualifications in Louisiana, victims must report the crime within 72 hours and can’t have been convicted of a felony within the last five years.
The reparations fund receives money from court fees and fines, as well as federal funding.
The fund paid more than $2 million to 684 victims in Louisiana in the fiscal year 2013.