This report presents the methodology, findings, and recommendations of a process evaluation of the Shelby County Arrest Policies Project (Tennessee), which is a Federal grant program intended to encourage jurisdictions to implement mandatory or proarrest policies as an effective domestic-violence intervention that is part of a coordinated community response to domestic violence.
Prior to the Arrest Policies grant, misdemeanor domestic-violence cases were heard in all seven criminal courtrooms of the 30th Judicial District Court. Requests for orders of protection were heard in nine civil divisions of the Court of General Sessions and before three judges in the Chancery Court. In order to address the several ways in which domestic-violence cases are handled in Shelby County, the key components of the Arrest Policies grant featured the creation of a Domestic Violence Court, the establishment of a special prosecution unit, pretrial services bail review, the creation of a Pretrial Services Citizen's Dispute Center, and the enhancement of victim services agencies. In the Domestic Violence Court, a single judge is assigned to hear all criminal matters that involve domestic violence. The primary reforms instituted by the Domestic Violence Court have been the increased use of pretrial services staff to prepare release recommendations for the three rotating bail hearing magistrates and to screen and prepare victim requests for orders of protection. An important feature of the Domestic Violence Court is periodic status hearings to review defendant attendance at treatment programs. The newly established (January 1999) Domestic Violence Assessment Center helps the court to set sentences. A supervisory prosecutor is in charge of a newly formed domestic violence prosecution unit, and the addition of three new staff positions is intended to improve pretrial screening. The Pretrial Services Citizen's Dispute Center reviews victim requests for arrest warrants or orders of protection. Victims are referred to the Center by police, the court, the prosecutor, and victim services agencies. Two agencies provide victim assistance under the Arrest Policies grant: the Shelby County Victim Assistance Center and the Shelby County YWCA. The evaluation determined that the Arrest Policies Project has produced many significant changes in the justice system's handling of domestic-violence cases and in the provision of victim services; however, the project is still a program in development. Recommendations focus on the creation of a screening unit in the District Attorney's Office, the identification of problems that have led to a high dismissal rate for domestic-violence cases, improvement in the availability of victim services on weekends, the employment of bilingual staff, more aggressive policing, and improvement in the capability of the probation system to supervise domestic-violence probationers.
Date Published: April 1, 2000