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What is VINE?

VINE is the acronym for Victim Information & Notification Everyday, an automated phone and email service that provides custody status updates about prison inmates under DOC. VINE also tracks offenders in “alternative secure” facilities – prerelease centers, MASC, Passages, Nexus, WATCh, Elkhorn Treatment Center, START and Connections Corrections.

Why is VINE important to the Department of Corrections?

Part of the department's mission is to support victims of crime and VINE represents a major element of the agency's effort to fulfill that part of its mission. Although much of the department's focus is on management offenders, society cannot forget that every offender and every crime leaves in its wake at least one victim.

Why is VINE important to victims?

Victims feel safer if they know the current custody status and location of the offender. This knowledge helps them reclaim a sense of control over their own lives and allows them to make safety plans if they know the offender is returning to their community.

How much is VINE used?

VINE has logged more than 19,000 calls and websites visits so far this year, has 3,400 active registrations and delivered more than 15,000 successful notifications this year.

Does VINE cover all offenders?

No. VINE does not track parolees or probationers. Their victims must register directly with DOC if they want victim services or community corrections staff to notify them about offender custody status changes. (A pending VINE expansion project will add probation and parole.)

How do people sign up for VINE?

They call (800) 456-3076 or log onto www.vinelink.com and follow the instructions. We also have a bridge to VINE registration on the CON (Correctional Offenders Network) offender locater site. Look for the “click here to register” link under the photos of prison inmates. The link does not display under photos of offenders in community placements. Note that registration is not required to check the custody status of an offender.

How do victims hear about VINE?

Ideally, law enforcement, prosecutors and county victim advocates advise victims to register for VINE at the time of sentencing. DOC staff, including those who prepare presentence investigation reports and other probation and parole officers, the collections (restitution) unit, the victim programs manager, and prison victim information officers also spread the word. Victims sometimes access VINE information through an online search or by word of mouth.

Does it cost money to register with VINE?

No. The program is a public service funded by the Legislature within the department's budget.

Who owns VINE?

DOC contracts with Appriss in Louisville, KY, which invented VINE after a rapist bonded out of a county jail and killed his victim in 1994. Mary Byron’s request to be notified had fallen through the cracks.

How widespread is VINE?

Most other states have VINE in county jails and/or state prisons.

Do Montana victims receive notifications from Kentucky?

Yes. The VINE call center in Louisville is staffed around the clock by operators who understand crime victim concerns and the unique features of every state’s VINE system. These operators are much like 911 operators – calm, collected and trained to handle every crisis imaginable.

How does VINE “know” about our offenders?

VINE downloads custody status updates from the department's offender management information system (OMIS) database at least twice daily. Accurate and timely data entry by DOC staff is critical to VINE’s success. Inaccurate data results in missed or inaccurate notifications, which could jeopardize a victim’s safety. The information technology staff and victim programs manager work closely with Appriss staff to maintain the system.

What events trigger a VINE notification?

Transfer from county jail or court after sentencing to the Missoula Assessment and Sanction Center, Passages women's correctional center in Billings, reception units at Montana State Prison or Montana Women's Prison, transfers from prison to other correctional facilities,, parole or sentence review hearings, releases from prison, interstate compact transfers, prison and prerelease escapes, offender deaths, and transfers among community-based corrections programs such as prerelease centers.

Why doesn’t VINE include victims of offenders probation and parole?

When DOC purchased the VINE system in 1995, the probation and parole option was not available. Increased data reliability and timeliness with OMIS has made expansion possible. DOC received a federal grant and state funding to pay for expanding the system to probation and parole and to add text messaging as a notification option.

How does VINE know its notifying the right person?

Victims must select their own personal identification number (PIN) when they register for VINE telephone notification. When VINE delivers offender information, it requires the recipient to enter the PIN to verify that the right person received the message.

What happens if a victim forgets his or her PIN?

The victim programs manager can retrieve a lost PIN if the party calls (888) 223-6332 during regular work hours. But at other times, the victim must either call a VINE operator in Kentucky or be patient because the calls usually stop after 24 hours. The best option is for victims to register for email notification rather than phone – or remember their PINs.

What can victims registered with VINE do to ensure they receive notifications?

Victims must remember to update their contact information (phone numbers and email addresses) when it changes.

Why do VINE calls sometimes go out to people who don’t want them?

When victims change their phone numbers and fail to update that information in VINE, the phone company reassigns the number and the new party “inherits” the VINE calls. These people eventually find their way to DOC and should be referred to the victim programs manage who can arrange for the calls to stop. A VINE operator also can stop the calls.

Are victims the only ones who use VINE?

No. Anyone can register for VINE. Offender families and friends, law enforcement, probation and parole officers, judges and prosecutors are among those who use VINE.

Where can I get more information on VINE?

Call Sally Hilander, victim programs manager, at (406) 444-7461 or email shilander@mt.gov