LEGAL BATTLE: Summit County's domestic violence court

Summit County is taking an innovative approach to dealing with Domestic Violence offenders. Instead of prison, they have the opportunity for treatment.

It's the first Felony Domestic Violence Court in the state of Ohio and it appears to be working.

"Domestic violence prosecution is the most difficult because you're dealing with a victim in every single case," Summit County Assistant Prosecutor Angela Alexander should know. She's been prosecuting DV cases in Summit County for more than a decade.

DOMESTIC ABUSE: A crime without boundaries

Early on she noticed that no matter how much prison time a defendant received, eventually he would end up back in court on charges of the same crime. We say 'he' because more than 90% of cases are male against female.

Four years ago Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh approached the Common Pleas Court with an idea for a dramatic change in the way cases are handled.

"We take high risk defendants who would have went to prison but they have accepted that they are a batterer. That's the number one criteria, they have to come in and admit in our interview that yes, I'm an abuser and yes I'm interested in treatment," Alexander says.

ADVICE: Find help where you live

For consistency, every domestic violence case is handled by Judge Paul Gallagher.

"Since I took over this assignment a couple years ago we've had over four hundred domestic violence cases so the problem's not getting better but at least I think we have a better way to deal with it when somebody's charged," Judge Gallagher says.

The program focuses on accountability and getting to the root cause of the abuse.

"Instead of the typical 26 week anger management class, these defendants will go through a 52 week batterer intervention program," Alexander says.

First and foremost, the victim has to agree to allow the defendant to enter the program. The offender is then checked for drugs and alcohol, given employment assistance and monitored by his victim, her advocate, the Judge, Prosecutor and Probation Officer.

"The offender is accountable every single week to all of us," Alexander says.

He's also required to attend weekly group counseling sessions with other men dealing with domestic violence issues.

"So a lot of men for the first time disclose that they were sexually abused some of them disclose for the first time that they were physically abused as a child and address some of those issues with other men who are in similar circumstance," Alexander says.

So far their statistics show its working. Judge Gallagher and Alexander say they have about a 75% success rate of defendants who complete the program and don't reoffend. Each week in court they watch each other go before the Judge to discuss his goals and accomplishments. When those are met, they all applaud.

But more importantly this program is also helping victims. The Battered Women's Shelter of Summit and Medina Counties is also a partner in this.

SPECIAL SECTION: United against domestic violence

"We're working with the victim also to make her a survivor we're helping her to develop some skills so you understand the cycle of violence you can see it coming early on you know if the pattern is happening again and you know your options for how to get out of it," says Battered Women's Shelter CEO Terri Heckman.

Crystal Baker, Director of Summit County Victim Services says most victims support the program.

"They have identified problems that they've seen maybe mental health problems, substance abuse problems things that haven't been addressed before and they realize that this person is maybe going to get the help they never gotten before," Baker says.

The program isn't for everyone. Some offenders fail and Alexander says surprisingly they are remorseful for letting everyone down. They also realize the chance they were given.

"These type of offenders need more intense supervision and prison is not always the answer, sometimes it is but if we can address the problem in an effective way why not do it that way," Alexander says.


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