Madison County's new Domestic Violence Accountability Court will open on June 1 — the second such program in the state.
“Domestic violence is a major problem not only here but everywhere in the country," Chief Judge David Hylla told the Record. "I think we need to address that. The hope is, obviously, that (the DVAC) will reduce domestic violence and lessen the time that victims have to be in court.”
This will be the circuit's fourth specialty court. It already maintains separate dockets for drug, veterans and mental health cases.
The DVAC will focus on intimate partner violence with intervention programs and at least 26 weeks of group counseling. Though they're out of custody when they join the program, the same bond conditions will apply as do already, keeping offenders from having any contact with victims. Offenders will be monitored by judges in the civil and criminal courts, who will be looking into whether they’re actively participating in the program.
In 2015, the Madison County Sheriff’s office recorded 277 reported crimes of domestic battery. It was an increase from 269 reports the year before and down from 333 reports in 2013, according to the office’s 2015 annual report.
Nationally, domestic violence courts work toward keeping victims safe and holding offenders accountable. Studies show the specialty court can be effective at keeping people from re-offending and at reducing taxpayer cost by keeping them out of jail, Hylla said.
The DVAC also will promote coordination between civil and criminal courts, he said.
Hylla and Associate Judge Jennifer Hightower will preside over the criminal caseload. Associate Judges Maureen Schuette and Sarah Smith will handle civil cases, which include orders of protection for victims.
The court held an informational meeting May 26 for the defense bar, service providers and the public to cover policy and procedures before the DVAC begins. The Third Circuit has some guidance from Winnebago County, which formed a similar court in 2012.
Winnebago County is one of six domestic violence mentor courts in the country. It often hosts people from other communities who want to learn about the program and about how to better address domestic violence in court systems.
But every community is different, and it will take time to see how this will work in Madison County, Hylla said.
“We know it’s going to be something we have to take step by step,” he said. “We just saw it was time to get the program started. We were the first in the state to have a drug court — first in the state to have a veterans court. We’ve taken the lead on some of these programs. I’m hoping (the DVAC does) as well as the other courts.”