NBC 5 Investigates

Crime Victims Question Illinois Program Designed To Help Them

"Why have these programs if you're not going to get the funding to the people," one mother asks.

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Isaiah (Zay) Manning was leaving a corner store in his Chicago Bronzeville neighborhood in the middle of the day when bullets started flying in July 2018.

"It was like boom. I felt like, 'Oh I got shot.' I instantly felt the pain," said Manning.

His mother Natalie Manning got a phone call from the hospital telling her Manning had been shot.

"I was able to get to the emergency room. He was bleeding all over the place," Natalie Manning said. "The doctor told me to be honest, it wasn’t looking good."

Manning was only 20 at the time of the shooting, but one bullet to the stomach aged him fast.

"I had a colostomy bag. I had to relearn to walk again for like three or four months. My digestive system was messed up. I had multiple surgeries," he recalled.

At the time Manning was working at a training program at the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN).

After getting into trouble as a teenager, the shooting set him back emotionally and financially.

"I lost my clothes, my shoes. … Then I was going to have to miss a couple of months of work," Manning said.

The good news is Illinois has a crime victim compensation program that can provide up to $27,000 of expenses for qualified crime victims. But NBC 5 Investigates analyzed every claim over the past 10 years, more than 42,000 claims, and we discovered the money the state is awarding victims has dropped sharply over the past 10 years, from more than $12 million a decade ago to just over $4 million last year.

Zay said that while he applied and was eligible for compensation, his family did not provide the necessary paperwork within the 30-day time limit to prove his claim.

His mother said, "Didn’t have time because the pandemic hit. We heard from one rep one time during the pandemic and then we didn’t hear from anyone and no letter."

Reporter Lakeidra Chavis of The Trace reviewed 15,000 victims over a five-year period beginning in 2015. She found a bureaucracy difficult for victims to navigate.

“We found less than four in 10 of those 15,000 applicants received any type of financial reimbursement money,” Chavis said. “We don’t know what happened to the rest of the money.”

The money to fund the victim compensation program comes from state and federal fines collected from the court fines convicted criminals are required to pay. It does not use taxpayer money. According to comptroller records, the program is run by the state attorney’s office and receives an average of $8.5 million a year.

"People are eligible for $27,000, but we found the average reimbursement was around $4,000," Chavis said her research showed.

Even though NBC 5 Investigates found that fewer victims are getting money each year, Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office says that on his watch his office has helped get more money, on average, for each of those victims.

Victims with criminal backgrounds can be disqualified if there’s evidence they were committing a crime when they were hurt which Manning was not. The attorney general’s office investigates the claim application and files a report with the Illinois Court of Claims which makes the final decision.

"They approved him but it’s because of the quantum of documents they wanted that it was virtually impossible," said a frustrated Natalie Manning. "Why have these programs if you’re not going to get the funding to the people?"

Court records indicate Manning's family was sent a letter informing them they had 30 days to submit his medical bills, but because they missed the deadline, the attorney general’s office recommended no payment.

Today, Manning walks with a limp, but he is moving forward without help from the crime victims compensation program.

“I’m proud of how far he has come along. He’s doing some amazing things, “ said his mother.

Manning is back working now as a writer at Chicago Contextos and was just featured in the documentary, "All These Sons." This summer, he and his mom walked the red carpet together at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

“It made me feel like I was a man on the right path, and I had to move forward,” Manning said smiling.

After NBC 5 Investigates inquired about Manning's case, the attorney general’s office said they would reopen his case if he and his mother provided receipts of his medical bills.

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