Study finds special courts have no effect on domestic violence

The Office of Justice Programs announced that an evaluation of New York’s specialized domestic violence courts – despite their goal of rehabilitation – appears to have no effect on domestic violence cases and no significant change in future incidents or conviction rates of offenders.

There are more than 200 domestic violence courts across the country, 64 in the state of New York, and while the evaluation focused on the courts within New York, Crime Solutions did not even give the program a “promising” rating, leaving questions about the effectiveness of other domestic violence courts.

The idea behind the specialized court is to have a single judge who deals only with cases of domestic violence, and in doing so, the judge’s knowledge and expertise on the subject continually increases, essentially making for more consistency and allowing the judge to make better, more well-informed decisions on a case by case basis. One of the main goals of the specialized court, in addition to protecting victims of domestic violence, is to provide increased accountability to offenders who continue to break the law and reduce recidivism, or the offender’s likelihood of committing future offenses.

Currently, New York has two specialized courts that deal specifically and solely with cases involving domestic violence, which, in addition to incidents involving intimate partners, could mean anything from elder or child abuse to violent acts involving family members or non-intimate partners who share a residence.

Criminal courts, the more common of the two, focus solely on domestic violence cases, while integrated courts also deal with issues surrounding criminal, family and matrimonial cases. Integrated courts bring all of the cases faced by the same family before a single judge. While the special courts appear to have no rehabilitative effect on the offenders, the integrated court system does significantly reduce the case processing time by more than two months on average.

Although detailed, formal offender assessments are rarely obtained, sentencing in domestic violence cases almost always includes a protective order against the offender and frequently include mandated programs for batterer intervention, as well as substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, parenting classes and anger management classes.

Domestic violence court judges, who typically act similar to a case manager, frequently check in with offenders to ensure they are complying with their sentencing terms.