Youth Domestic Violence Court
Launched in late 2003, Brooklyn’s Youthful Offender Domestic Violence Court was the first court to address exclusively misdemeanor domestic violence cases among teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19. Despite statistics showing that women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of domestic violence and sexual assault nationwide, overwhelmed court systems have not been able to respond effectively to the problem. Defendants usually receive no targeted services aimed at preventing further abuse, and victims receive little in the way of services and counseling. In contrast, at the Youthful Offender Domestic Violence Court a dedicated judge and court room staff are equipped to address the unique needs that teen complainants bring to court. And by linking victims to a specialized services and offering a free 12-week program to teen batterers, the court attempts to engage teenagers and provide services designed to halt the violence.
How It Works
Key features of the Youthful Offender Domestic Violence Court model include:
Victim Advocacy: One of the Court’s central missions is to enhance collaboration among criminal justice agencies and community-based groups that offer social services and assistance to adolescent domestic violence victims. The Court also has a dedicated teen victim advocate— employed through the counseling services unit of the District Attorney's Office—who is able to devote the time and energy, and has the unique social work skills, to engage teen victims and offer referrals to additional services. The victim advocate is responsible for reaching out to victims to explain the criminal justice process and provide counseling, safety planning, and links to services.
Accountability: Adolescent perpetrators of relationship violence are mandated as part of a plea to attend a free 12-week program—provided through a partnership with STEPS to End Family Violence—designed to intensively re-educate juvenile batterers and prevent them from continuing the cycle of violence into adulthood. A STEPS group facilitator is in court to provide immediate on-site interviews for program eligibility. A court-employed resource coordinator monitors defendants’ compliance with all programming. Perpetrators appear in court once a month for monitoring purposes, and sanctions for noncompliance include community service and extended time in the program.
Specialized Attention: Informed judicial decision making based on a knowledge of adolescent development and relationship violence among teens is a crucial aspect of the Court. A single Criminal Court judge presides over all teen dating violence cases in the jurisdiction, which ensures consistency. A dedicated and informed District Attorney is also assigned to the Court; previously, teen domestic violence cases were farmed out to non-specialized Assistant District Attorneys who lacked the programs and resources to deal with the unique needs of this defendant population.
Evaluation: The Court has a research and evaluation plan that tracks the number and types of cases heard, dispositions, the number of defendants ordered into the adolescent batterers’ program, the percentage of victims meeting with the teen victim advocate, and overall compliance rates. The goal is to gather comprehensive previously unknown information about adolescent victims and perpetrators of domestic violence, and to track case outcomes under the Youthful Offender Domestic Violence Court model. The court regularly reviews and analyzes these statistics and modifies the program accordingly.