It is common for both the complaining witness and the defendant in a domestic violence case to believe that the victim brought the violence on herself. The court can respond to this by making sure that defendants understand that they are directly accountable to the judge for their behavior towards the complainant and their compliance with court orders. Domestic violence courts can encourage another kind of accountability as well, holding government and nonprofit partners accountable for serving victims and monitoring defendants in the most effective manner possible.
Build strong relationships with service providers. Information is crucial to any effort to promote accountability. Strong relationships with service providers, such as batterers intervention programs and substance abuse treatment providers, ensure that when a defendant is noncompliant, the court is notified right away and can act accordingly. In Buffalo, service referrals are made through a clinical center located right in the courthouse, ensuring that information flows smoothly both from and to the court.
Hold batterers programs accountable. Judges and case managers should research local batterers programs to determine which ones will reinforce the court’s message to defendants. Additionally, the court needs to work together with batterers programs so that they know what they have to tell the court and why. One batterers intervention program in Brooklyn, not accustomed to being accountable to the court, reported as a matter of course that all offenders sentenced to the program were in compliance even if they were not. When the court realized this, it stopped referring defendants to that program. This example highlights the need for constant communication with off-site programs.
Think creatively. In many jurisdictions the local probation department can provide the court with specialized domestic violence officers to help supervise offenders. Probation and parole departments can monitor offenders even when they are no longer being monitored directly by the court. And local nonprofits can pitch in as well. In Queens, the domestic violence court has a representative from a local batterers intervention program sitting in the courtroom in order to conduct an immediate intake for each sentenced offender. This process eliminates a step from the process—sending the offender off-site to participate in an assessment interview—and thus improves efficiency and accountability.
Use technology to enhance access to information. Computer technology can streamline the information process and ensure that relevant information flows continuously, quickly, and reliably to all dedicated personnel. Dedicated domestic violence courts use technology to help avoid contradictory rulings and to make more informed decisions about sentencing. New York has developed a specialized domestic violence technology application to allow judges, case managers, district attorneys, defense attorneys, probation officers, and community partners to have immediate access to important information regarding each domestic violence case.