This paper reports on process and outcome evaluations of the Kings County (Brooklyn, NY) Felony Domestic Violence Court (FDVS), which was established in June 1996 to provide an effective and coordinated response to domestic-violence crimes by both criminal justice and social service agencies.
The FDVS features a network of criminal justice and social service partner agencies; a specialized caseload of only indicted domestic-violence felonies; trained personnel for the court, prosecution, offender intervention and treatment, probation, and victim services; vertical processing and standard practices to ensure uniformity in case handling; enhanced case information flow among partner agencies; an emphasis on defendant monitoring and accountability; and enhanced protection for and services to victims. Quantitative data were analyzed in the evaluation to determine the effects of the FDVS model on case processing, case outcomes, and recidivism. A total of 136 cases adjudicated by FDVS in the first half of 1997 were compared with a sample of 93 cases handled by general felony courts in the 18 months before the specialized court was created. The data do not reflect changes in the court and partner agencies from 1998 to 2000. The evaluation found that the creation and operation of the FDVS has made a significant difference in the processing of domestic-violence cases in several key areas. Under the FDVS model the district attorney's office is more likely to indict less serious cases of domestic violence. Victim services have expanded, and the FDVC has spent slightly more time processing each case from arraignment to disposition. Conviction rates did not change under the FDVC, but methods of reaching disposition did change. Convictions by guilty pleas were more common and trials were less common in FDVC cases. On the whole, sentencing practices under the FDVC model were neither more punitive in terms of incarceration nor more treatment-oriented than before FDVC was created. Although FDVC did not order more convicted defendants into batterer intervention programs than the general felony courts, this may have been because FDVC used these programs much more widely in the predisposition period. Data limitations prevented reliable estimates of recidivism; however, the findings tentatively suggest that probation violations were reported for approximately one-third of all probationers under both the old and new court models. Limited data prevented determining recidivism specifically for domestic-violence offenses. The evaluation found that because of the limited availability of needed community services, victim service providers have restricted options for referring victims. Community resources that serve batterers were also very limited, especially for batterers whose violence had reached the felony level or was exacerbated by substance abuse or mental health needs. Defense attorneys have raised various issues pertinent to the rights of defendants in the course of case processing, particularly regarding the ordering of predisposition interventions. Implications of these findings are drawn for researchers and practitioners.
Date Published: January 1, 2004