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Bench & Bar
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Bench & Bar Section

June 2017, vol. 47, no. 11

Madison County Domestic Violence Accountability Court

June 1, 2017 marked one year since Madison County launched the Domestic Violence Accountability Court (DVAC). DVAC is a specialty court, which aims to address the challenging issues domestic violence presents in the justice system. DVAC is committed to improving the consistency and response to domestic violence. Nearly all cases involving intimate partner violence in Madison County are filed under DVAC. Key elements of the court include a dedicated group of judges, prosecutors and probation officers who are specially trained on the dynamics of abuse.

The Madison County DVAC is modeled after Winnebago County’s Domestic Violence Coordinated Courts (DVCC), which was established in 2012 and was one of the first of its kind in the nation. In late 2014, the Winnebago County DVCC was designated by the Office on Violence Against Women to serve as one of six national Domestic Violence Mentor Courts. Specialized courts addressing domestic violence are becoming increasingly popular, as the justice system seeks to stimulate a more effective response to domestic violence.

Among the goals of DVAC, offender accountability and victim safety are top priorities. Every defendant charged under the court must complete a risk assessment with a Department of Human Services approved Partner Abuse Intervention Program (PAIP) provider. They are then required to follow up with a minimum of 26 weeks of treatment, where offenders learn to take personal responsibility for their actions and how to break the violence cycle to prevent further abuse. Offenders are required to attend regular court appearances in which they appear in front of a designated DVAC Judge. Having one judge handle intimate partner violence related cases ensures consistency and helps to increase compliance. If offenders are not abiding by the rules of DVAC, the judge may impose sanctions, which range from community service to additional jail sentences.

Another important aim of DVAC is to improve victim safety. Domestic violence victims have unique needs and concerns. By contacting victims immediately after an offender is arrested, the court intends to provide them with links to available services and programs in the community, including crisis assistance, emergency shelter information, counseling and safety planning. Additionally, advocates are present for all hearings and court dates to ensure victims are informed. Victim safety is also manifested by the coordination of information and services in both criminal and civil cases so that the judge, attorneys and advocates are all aware of a case history.

With DVAC, Madison County is changing the way the system approaches domestic violence cases. In the upcoming year, DVAC intends to intensively its focus on victim safety and pursue additional sources of funding.