May 12, 2021
Domestic violence is a complex problem that requires effective coordination between corresponding agencies in the criminal justice system. According to the Impact Report: COVID-19 and Domestic Violence Trends, from the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice, Domestic violence incidents increased 8.1% after jurisdictions imposed lockdown restrictions to fight against the Pandemic. This influx of violence became a" pandemic within a pandemic" according to Toni Johnson-Simpson, Executive Director for the Denton County Friends of the Family. But beyond the reported violence is the unreported violence. In a recent article for The New England Journal of Medicine, authors indicated that while many domestic-violence hotlines were prepared to receive more calls during the lockdowns, that did not happen, but that does not mean that the cases decreased. The authors of A Pandemic within a Pandemic—Intimate Partner Violence during Covid-19 speculate this could mean "that victims were unable to safely connect with services."
As courts return to normal operations they may face an influx of such domestic violence cases and will need the tools necessary to address such cases. In December 2020, NCSC released its report on Domestic Relations: Addressing Backlog and New Filings that suggests ways courts can address the backlog in existing domestic violence cases and any potential future increase in filings. This builds on work released in October 2020 that focused on Domestic Relations & Domestic Violence in Time of Crisis. Additionally, the American Judges Association's Effective Adjudication of Domestic Abuse Cases examines assessing lethality and dangerousness, custody and protective orders, special evidentiary issues, and effective sentencing.
For court administrators and staff, the National Association for Court Management's 2017 A Guide to Domestic Violence Cases describes ten essential elements for effective intervention in domestic violence such as the use of the Coordinated Community Response (CCR) model with its emphasis on a coordinated effort to address these issues beyond the courtroom.
One example of such as response was unveiled in October 2020 in Franklin County, Minnesota. Local agencies received $900,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice to implement a Blueprint for Safety model through September 2023 similar to the system already in place in Saint Paul, Minnesota. The plan focuses on the central goal of keeping the victim safe and includes the courts along with law enforcement and groups to provide support for victims and their families.
Relatedly, the National Center's Safety and Justice Challenge in 2018 examined Effective Court Responses to Persons Charged with Domestic Violence which suggests that courts should place their focus on managing risk to the victim’s safety and well-being, rather than general recidivism risk reduction.
Is your court working together with the criminal justice system’s agencies to end domestic violence? Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest and share your experiences!
For more information, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.