Implementing a Pretrial Safety Program for Victims of Domestic Violence

Strategies That Helped Courts Implement Pretrial Safety

Researchers evaluating the Judicial Oversight Demonstration[1] found that:

  • A full-time project director organized meetings and planning sessions.
  • Procedures for obtaining a protection order were expedited.
  • Judges regularly reviewed batterers' compliance with the terms of their probation.
  • Planning sessions helped to efficiently modify the court system and coordinate community responses to domestic violence.
  • Each project began with a core group of partner agencies and expanded to include a wide network of partnerships with community organizations and treatment facilities.
  • Judges, attorneys and law enforcement officers attended special training sessions with experts in domestic violence.
  • Staff worked exclusively on domestic violence cases and became specialists in handling these kinds of cases.

Changes Made When Implementing Pretrial Safety

As part of the Judicial Oversight Demonstration, communities made changes to ensure victim safety during the pretrial period. Although many jurisdictions restrict offender and victim contact before trial, these conditions are often violated by offenders and violations can go unpunished.

Demonstration sites made the following changes:

Enhanced role of judges. Judges in all communities were asked to increase their involvement in cases, and when possible, oversee a case from start to finish. Additionally:

  • Each site organized additional education and training programs for judges.
  • Washtenaw County (Ann Arbor) developed formal protocols for conducting arraignments.
  • Milwaukee assigned judges to a domestic violence court for a 2-year term.

Changes to court processes. Two sites dedicated courts or docket days to domestic violence cases. The third site already had three specialized domestic violence courts in place and added a fourth. Courts also:

  • Asked prosecutors to expand their use of evidence.
  • Recommended best practices that prosecutors could use to make their cases stronger.
  • Expedited procedures for protection order hearings.
  • Regularly scheduled judicial review of probation compliance.
  • Required police officers to have experience in working with domestic violence cases.

Increased monitoring of offenders. Two sites worked to monitor offenders:

  • Washtenaw County reviewed bond conditions with defendants in person and used penalties (fines and jail time) to enforce violations.
  • Milwaukee actively monitored defendants with in-person reports, home visits, and contact with victims to inquire about violations.

Expanded victim services. All sites expanded victim services:

  • Dorchester and Washtenaw County hired specialists to provide a needs assessment, information, referrals, and assistance.
  • Milwaukee created a secure space in the courthouse for victims and their children and hired specialists to provide information and refer victims for services.
  • All sites improved probation and batterer intervention services.
  • All sites worked with victims earlier in the court process.

Challenges to Making the Demonstration Work

Researchers evaluating the Judicial Oversight Demonstration found:

  • Partner agencies at the same site did not understand one another's operations. This made the coordination of prosecution and treatment programs more challenging.
  • Changes initially overburdened many of the partners and their agencies.
  • Agencies often lacked resources for expanding staff and providing training.
  • Differences in computer systems made data-sharing difficult.
  • Justice agencies and community service organizations had to accommodate clients' needs for confidentiality.

Notes

[1] The Judicial Oversight Demonstration was initiated by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women and NIJ. JOD was a field test with three main objectives: 1) provide consistent responses to domestic violence offenses, 2) coordinate victim advocacy and services, and 3) enforce strong offender accountability and monitoring. The evaluation was conducted by The Urban Institute.

Read the full report Judicial Oversight Demonstration: Culminating Report on the Evaluation and three accompanying reports:

Date Created: August 3, 2009