Court Watchers Spread In Domestic Violence Cases

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Volunteers in many cities are monitoring courts to see how they handle cases of domestic and sexual violence, Women’s ENews reports. Sponsors are typically domestic violence coalitions, National Organization for Women chapters or National Council of Jewish Women chapters.

Those involved say court watch programs have changed the way many judges and prosecutors treat domestic violence cases. The programs have initiated systematic changes, including specialty courts that hear only domestic violence or restraining order cases, more severe sentences, and automatic orders for protection for domestic violence cases. Silent Witness National Initiative, started in Minneapolis, reports that 22 states have some kind of court watch program.

The court watch program called the Community Coalition on Family Violence in Knox County, Tenn., monitors domestic violence cases in the criminal misdemeanor court. “Your very presence makes a difference,” said Sally Lighter, an attorney who runs the program. “The judges behave differently when our volunteers are in the courtroom.”

In Minneapolis a program called WATCH assembles detailed records of offenders with the most alarming behavior, including their criminal histories and their interaction with the criminal justice system. These chronologies are kept on file and are faxed to court staff when the profiled defendant is scheduled for an appearance.

Author and rape survivor Patricia Weaver Francisco said of the program, “Court watch is an idea that’s spreading. “It’s such a powerful and workable idea. It’s an outgrowth of the notion of a jury. The role of watcher feels like the missing piece. I hope eventually we’ll think it was always this way.”


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