LIMA — Oh, the changes Phyllis Neff has seen over the past three-plus decades as a court advocate for the Crime Victim Services agency.
From her start in 1988 — when victims of crime had little or no legal standing and virtually no one on which they could rely to guide them through an intimidating criminal justice system — to a 1996 milestone when the Ohio legislature added a victims’ right section to the Ohio Revised Code and then the 2017 voter approval of a constitutional amendment setting those new laws in stone, Neff has dedicated her career giving a greater voice to a segment of the community that for years had fallen through the cracks.
As the second social worker ever hired by David Voth, the longtime director of the Allen-Putnam County Crime Victims Service office, Neff and Voth worked hand in hand on behalf of crime victims at a time when few were showing an interest.
“Between David’s ability to find funding for our agency and my desire to figure out how advocacy was going to work in Allen County, we found ways to keep our clients updated,” said Neff. “It used to be that the only way victims of a crime would know what was going on with their case was if they were subpoenaed. We had to figure out a way where social workers, as non-lawyers, could enter the criminal justice system.”
The first milestone, Neff said, came in 1996 when the Ohio Legislature enacted victim’s rights laws that required victims to be kept apprised to criminal proceedings and allowed them to be heard at sentencings. Ohio voters more than a decade later incorporated those laws into the state constitution in what has become known as Marsy’s Law.
Neff said her greatest satisfaction has come simply in knowing that victims’ voices are now being heard. “After all, the crime started with them. And I think everybody needs to know what they have to say. I get a lot of satisfaction from that.”
The longtime social worker often is just a friendly face and a shoulder to lean on for individuals going through one of the most terrifying times of their lives.
“Victims think of the criminal justice system as a TV show, and nothing could be further from the truth,” Neff said. “I just try to keep them in the loop and help them get some closure. It takes its toll on me sometimes; I feel their pain. I couldn’t have done this without my Christian faith. Every day you see the battle between good and evil and I just pray to the Lord that is all works out, that justice is served and that truth is revealed in the courtroom.”
As for her plans in retirement?
“I’m going to enjoy life and see what the Lord has in store for the next chapter of my life,” Neff said.