Grant aims to streamline domestic violence cases

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, July 15, 2010

The recently approved STOP Violence Against Women Grant Program, which will be conducted through Vicksburg Municipal Court, will seek to improve the criminal justice system’s response to domestic violence by providing victims’ assistance and better tracking of cases.

Municipal Judge Nancy Thomas said the end result of the program — OK’d by the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen on June 25 — will be a “dedicated docket for domestic violence cases.” Criminal misdemeanor domestic violence and civil protection order cases often arise from the same facts and involve the same people, she said.

“It would be more efficient to hear those matters at the same time,” she said. “Right now we don’t have the capability on the computer to link those two things together.”

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Thomas said the program will keep people from having to go to court multiple times based on the same facts.

“My hope is that there can be one hearing that can address both the civil protection order and the criminal case as well,” she said. “We may not be able to do it in every case, but in some if it could be accomplished then it would be helpful.”

Also under the contract, Haven House Family Shelter will provide on-site victim services, which entails staff members attending court with victims and counseling them. Haven House had not been in the court system before the grant, Thomas said.

“They’ve been available for victims to call on their own, but there’s never been an entity that says, ‘You need this service, and we’re going to provide it for you here,’” she said.

Scottie Kiihnl, executive director of Haven House, said the shelter’s staff will also provide information and expertise to court officials regarding domestic violence dynamics and safety issues for victims, as well as training court officials and law enforcement.

Kiihnl said she thinks STOP will enhance the array of a continuum of available services.

“The services are there in the court and they’re there with Haven House and with law enforcement and with other service entities in the community,” she said. “But one of the things that happens sometimes is that those services don’t necessarily get coordinated to the point that the victim needing the services is always aware of that continuum.”

Haven House and other providers in the community are working toward a coordinated community response to better provide services for victims of domestic violence, she said.

The $30,012 grant will be combined with a $10,004 in-kind personnel match by the city. Haven House will receive $500 per month for nine months. The grant is through the Mississippi Department of Public Safety Planning. STOP was authorized by the Violence Against Women Act, Title IV of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, and reauthorized and amended by VAWA in 2000.

“We’re really excited that the court has gotten this grant and, of course, over a long period of time Haven House has received funding through the Department of Public Safety,” Kiihnl said.

In 2009, there were 355 arrests in Vicksburg for domestic abuse cases. Between October 2009 and May 2010, which is when the grant application was filed, there were 42 protective orders in place.

Domestic violence is a misdemeanor unless it’s an aggravated assault or a person’s third conviction within five years, Thomas said.