Innovative supervised visitation program planned

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By Frank Weir

Legal News

Jackson County District Court Chief Judge Darryl Mazur is participating in a "consulting committee" charged with establishing an innovative supervised visitation program.

Jackson County, in partnership with the courts and the AWARE domestic violence program, has been awarded a $300,000 three-year "Safe-Havens Supervised Visitation" development grant by the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women (OVW).

Jackson County Friend of the Court Attorney and Referee Janet Gage is the Safe-Havens grant project director, Mazur said, and it is hoped an approved supervised visitation program will be up and running by October 1 this year.

"I'm very excited about this grant and new program," Mazur said. "The idea is to protect the abused parent and to prevent possible abuse to any children.

"With supervised visitation, the program can control and monitor visitation and prevent any additional abuse from taking place."

Although courts can order supervised visitation, Mazur noted that the newly-funded program would serve as a "permanent connection" between the district court and family courts.

"We need a formal, workable connection and this program would provide that. There are domestic violence cases occurring at the criminal, probation and divorce stages but the remedies coming out of those different arenas don't always dovetail well.

"I think it would be highly effective to have a program in place that would coordinate the interchanges between those different levels that address domestic violence.

"It also would serve as a coordinating connection between the respective judges," he said.

Concerning Mazur's ongoing work with Jackson's Domestic Violence Court, over which he presides, the judge noted that the specialty court is in its seventh year and almost 500 participants have "graduated" from it.

Graduation entails the completion of all probation requirements and payment of all fines and costs, he noted.

Mazur elaborated that the program has a far lower rate of recidivism from its graduates, about nine percent. Typically, about 35 percent of individuals convicted of crimes reoffend, he said.

"Our most disturbing problem in the area of domestic violence remains the lack of cooperation by victims of this crime.

"When violence occurs, many victims just want the offender out of the house. They don't necessarily want them arrested and prosecuted, unfortunately.

"But unless the offender suffers a consequence for his behavior, he often feels empowered. He believes he got away with it and is likely to offend again. That is exactly what we do not want happening, of course.

"Part of what we want to do is to educate the public and juries who sometimes feel this behavior, these crimes, are best left in the home and out of sight. Prosecutors are very forward thinking and they raise the right questions but it's very hard to get convictions.

"I'm exploring working with victims via the prosecutor's office or with the AWARE shelter. We really need a victim's advocate who would get involved as soon as the crime has occurred and make contact with the victim.

"The advocate would explain the legal process to the victim and how important it is to stay the course, and that the process can be effective in protecting her and her children.

"A good advocate could be on the scene immediately when the victim is most vulnerable to show the concern the community, and the court system, has for her and to stress the importance that the case be pursued.

"The advocate also would make sure the victim is protected and that there are no violations of protection orders or bonds.

"I would hope that such a program would empower the victim, rather than the offender, to pursue the court process and to come to court and see the case finalized. Often, by the time the case comes to trial, the victim is no where to be found because she does not want to pursue it," Mazur said.

Mazur concluded by noting that he recently attended a national conference of judges who deal with domestic violence.

"Significant inroads are being made on a national level. The judiciary has become much better informed on how to handle domestic violence as a serious crime that must be addressed," he said.

Published: Mon, Feb 28, 2011

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