An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
Video and Audio Archive

Jo Kolanda
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from Jo Kolanda
Interviewee:Jo Kolanda;
Mequon, WI
Date of Interview:January 12, 2003
Location:Washington, DC

Jo Kolanda


Jo Kolanda established the nation's first prosecutor-based victim witness assistance program in Milwaukee and is on the faculty of Marquette University's Institute for Urban Living.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

Jo Kolanda first became involved in the movement in 1975 when she began working as a Citizen Contact and Support Coordinator for a new program in Milwaukee, Wisconsin called Project Turnaround. The program was funded by a grant from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) to help prosecutors better understand victims. She was given the job because those running the program did not want a bureaucrat, but rather someone who would bring creativity to the program. As time progressed, Kolanda became increasingly passionate about her work.

Interview Summary

Context of the Era

Kolanda reflects that the mid-1970s was "... a law and order kind of era." She quickly learned that the only way to keep people listening was to appeal to law and order, that treating victims well would enable prosecutors to successfully prosecute criminals. She recalls that it was difficult in those early years to gain respect, and that there was a lot that she, and others, needed to learn about victims. To remedy this, Kolanda began calling victims to update them about their cases She remembers a time when on rough days there were no colleagues, and no one to call for support.

Successful Strategies

Kolanda's most successful strategy was to talk to people -- to keep victims informed and to continue to educate those both inside and outside the system. She stresses that the victim assistance field should not assume that the same interest in victims' rights and services that is present today will continue into the future.


Kolanda's perceives her greatest failure as not being able to convince District Attorneys around the state of Wisconsin of the importance and the professionalism of the person providing victim/witness services. Although she feels that this has begun to change, it still worries her. She also feels that victims who are "less than fine upstanding citizens" are still not treated with respect from the system. Kolanda also considers it to be a failure that there is no victim compensation in some murder cases. She comments,

"... ..I think victim compensation should be based on the survivors, not on the deceased because it's they who are stuck with the grief and the funeral bills and the need for counseling. And it.....I mean it's mean spirited."

Greatest Accomplishment

Kolanda believes that a big accomplishment has been the institutionalization of victim/witness services into the criminal justice system. She feels that another huge accomplishment has been the passage of state-level constitutional amendments in 33 states.

"There's nobody now who wonders who the victim/witness service providers is when she talks to the judge and asks the bailiff for stuff and the defense attorneys don't question who they are. They're accepted. They're part of the system and that is a huge accomplishment."

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

Kolanda believes that training is essential to continue the growth and professionalism of the field. She also believes that the victim assistance field should reach out and educate people in all fields that come into contact with victims. Kolanda shares:

"I think what's needed is to hook those bright young things who are so full of idealism and hook 'em on providing victim services whether they're headed into law enforcement or law school, or straight for social services, you need to have people who are educated about victims. Unless it happens to them, people have basically no clue what victims are going through and what the criminal justices system demands of them."

First and foremost, she advises those new to the field to not assume that they will have their jobs next year. She also stresses the importance of knowing the history of the field so that those who are new to it will not repeat the same mistakes, and advises those in the field to "get political," to get connected with political figures.

"Because in bad economic times, darling, you could be a frill again in the criminal justice system. And you'd better be careful because you could be the first to be cut in the funding crisis and you'd better get political."

Greatest Fear

Kolanda's greatest fear is what she refers to as the "double-edged sword, that as victim services become institutionalized in the system, the field will become too institutionalized and that the work will become just another job. She also fears that victims will not play as much of a role as they should in developing curricula and guidelines.