A court in a small county of 150,000 people, Stearns Central Minnesota, has been recognized as a “national expert in both the prevention and prosecution” of domestic violence by the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women.
The county is home to the Stearns County Felony Domestic Violence Court , a court whose main goal is to prevent homicide by monitoring repeat domestic violence offenders. The court uses a two-pronged approach to address the issue. The court holds the offenders accountable with weekly hearings and a special surveillance officer that monitors the offenders’ whereabouts. Simultaneously, the court provides an array of support services for the victims to help ensure their trust and safety. According to its website, the court “supervises a core group of the most dangerous repeat felony domestic violence offenders with close judicial and probationary supervision enforced by strict conditions of release, surveillance, weekly offender accountability check-ins directly to the court and utilizing an extended slate of victim support services to enhance victim safety.”
The DOJ office awarded the county training grants to brief other agencies across the country on the innovative practices used in the Stearns County Felony Domestic Violence Court. Created in 2008 the court has received over $1,000,000 in grants to support its work.
The Stearns County Attorney, Janelle Kendall, created the court six years ago while looking for a way to control jail-crowding and prevent homicide. In 2008, seven out of eight of reported homicide cases in her jurisdiction were domestic related. After some internal research and conversations with other law enforcement officials, Kendall determined the best way to prevent homicide in the area was to address and intervene in the lives of repeat domestic violence offenders with a “specialized team of domestic violence-trained professionals.” The addition of a surveillance expert to monitor the offenders and ensure they are following the rules given by the court has been the key ingredient for the court’s success. The “unarmed but experienced investigator,” Bill Nelson, spends his days tracking and randomly checking in on the offenders to confirm they are not stalking their victims.
Options for pre-trial release supervision for felony repeat offenders include the following:
- Electronic Home Monitoring Drug and Alcohol Testing
- Domestic Abuse No Contact Order Enforcement
- Mandatory Weekly Compliance Hearings
- Daily Schedule and Curfew Enforcement
- Supervision and Surveillance
According to Jim Hughes, Chief of Police in Sartell, Minnesota, they have been “seeing a lot of great change.”
“In three full years of operation, the population of repeat offenders (136 total) has committed only five new domestic assaults. Prior to the court there were on average three felony assault arrests a year per defendant,’’ according to information on the program from the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.
– StarTribune Editorial Board, 6/3/13