Making the Links in Family Violence Cases: Collaboration among the Family, Child Protection and Criminal Justice Systems

Annex 3: Evaluations of integrated domestic violence courts

There have been several evaluations of Integrated Domestic Violence (IDV) courts to date and the results overall appear promising. The evaluations, however, often measure different outcomes, and the court models vary somewhat from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, which makes comparison challenging. As a result, rather than attempting to provide an overall assessment of IDV courts, this Annex provides an overview of several evaluations.

Bennington County, Vermont

The evaluation of the IDV court in Bennington County, VermontFootnote 111 focused primarily on the issue of recidivism. The study concluded that participants in the IDV court recidivated less often or at a similar level to participants in other courts; they did, however, appear to recidivate more quickly. It is interesting to note that reconvictions involved a number of different offences including motor vehicle offences, assaults, drug crimes, driving while intoxicated, domestic assault and alcohol offences. This suggests that this population has service needs beyond simply the issue of family violence. The evaluation also concluded that the processing time for cases prosecuted in the IDV court was much faster than other courts; the processing time for criminal cases was twice as quick as those in the Bennington County District Court and three times quicker than cases across the state.

Erie County, New YorkFootnote 112

The number of appearances by families in the IDV court in Erie County, which includes Buffalo, was much lower than for a comparator non-IDV court. The IDV courts, however, required more post-disposition appearances in the criminal cases;Footnote 113 this can be seen as positive though, since the purpose of these appearances is to ensure offender accountability. In family court cases, there were higher rates of withdrawn and settled cases than in non-IDV cases; families were also less likely to return to court with a new filing within six months of the case disposition. These results suggest that families in IDV court were more satisfied with the disposition of their case. Further, in comparison to criminal cases in non-IDV cases, defendants were more likely to plead guilty or receive an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal,Footnote 114 but were less likely to have their case dismissed. Finally, it was noted that one of the goals of the IDV court is the improved enforcement of protective orders. The study found that there were a higher number of IDV court litigants who faced new criminal contempt charges while their cases were ongoing, as well as in the six months following the disposition. The authors of the study suggest that there are a number of possible explanations for this – there may be higher number of protection orders being made in the IDV court, a higher number of violations, higher reporting of violations or increased surveillance of the defendant through the court monitoring.

New York City and Long Island, New York

Another study in New York looked specifically at the issue of protection orders. The study compared cases in IDV courts to non-IDV courts between 2003-2009 from the five boroughs of New York City and Long Island, and found that the IDV courts took longer to address motions for permanent civil protection orders, and were no more likely to grant such orders. Different explanations for these outcomes were hypothesized. For example, it was suggested that the IDV court judges may prioritize cases in such a way that the criminal and civil cases are heard first with the civil protection orders being heard later. It was also suggested that it may take longer to schedule appearances in IDV court because of the large number of legal and non-legal advocates who need to be involved in an IDV court hearing.Footnote 115

Idaho IDV Courts

IDV courts in Idaho have also been evaluated. In July 2002 Ada County began a pilot program, called the Ada County Family Violence Court Grant Project (“Ada County Project”), to better manage cases involving domestic violence. The project involved a “one family – one judge” model, for cases involving divorce, custody, child support as well as misdemeanour criminal cases related to domestic violence. The Ada County Project was awarded a grant from the United States Department of Health and Human Services, and introduced a case coordinator and expanded the community services available to participants in the program.

An evaluation of the Ada County Project found that it had a positive impact on both child and parent safety.Footnote 116 For example, no children in the program were involved in a substantiated report of child maltreatment during the program or in the following six months. Group participants also had lower rates of violence-related charges, no-contact or protection order violations and filing of new protection orders, than did a comparison group; similar levels of drug and alcohol charges were reported for both groups, however. The participants in the IDV court also had less court involvement post-program than did the comparison group; the authors noted that this could result in cost savings, but that more study was needed on this point.

The evaluation of the Ada County Project found that stakeholders assessed the project very positively in terms of coordination and collaboration, and in particular the role of the Domestic Violence Coordinator. The Domestic Violence Coordinator in the Ada County Project was involved in tasks such as: intake and assessment, case management and coordination, monitoring treatment programs and completion of programs, maintaining direct contact with families, coordinating and facilitating meetings with treatment providers and helping to develop treatment plans. Similarly, an evaluation of the IDV courts in the Sixth and Seventh Judicial Districts in Idaho describes the role of their Domestic Violence Coordinator as follows:

As the central hub, the Domestic Violence Coordinator provides valuable linkage between court personnel, service providers, and victims and defendants alike. Information is gathered and transmitted along the various spokes to the relevant stakeholders. All spokes of the wheel are equally supported by, and dependent upon, the neutral role of the Domestic Violence Coordinator hub. Again, all of this is contextualized with the decision making function of district judges.Footnote 117

The evaluation of the IDV courts in the Sixth and Seventh Judicial Districts in Idaho concluded that the Domestic Violence Coordinator is invaluable, and plays a critical role in collaboration, coordination and the efficiency of the court. The existence of IDV courts, including the role of the Domestic Violence Coordinator, have now been legislatively recognized in Idaho.Footnote 118