RWA and MSH have been at the center of changing the response to domestic violence in Carlton County. Many of the policy changes in law enforcement agencies, the prosecutor's office, and probation have resulted from the advocates' work. For RWA, this has consisted of developing relationships with other agencies over a number of years. More recently, the Non- Violence Council, developed by MSH, has given advocates a forum for addressing pressing issues. The Non-Violence Council is viewed as a policy-making body and deals with system-wide issues. The Domestic Abuse Group's case review meetings also serve help to resolve problems on a case-by-case basis.
Recently the Domestic Abuse Group has been exploring ways to standardize the law enforcement response to offenders who do not comply with court-ordered interventions, as part of their monthly case review meetings. This effort has included judges, probation officers, advocates, and batterer intervention service providers. Many people have been frustrated by the lack of compliance among offenders, who often drop out of the court ordered education program and are not held accountable. The advocates, probation officers, and Human Development Center (HDC) raised this issue with the judges and they have begun to work out a solution whereby they will file an order to show cause for failing to comply with court orders. Punishment in these cases may involve a jail sentence.
Many other changes have been made through the work of the advocates and coordinating bodies. The results of these efforts are evident in the way a domestic violence case is handled in Carlton County. Police officers can now make a probable cause misdemeanor arrest within 12 hours of the domestic violence incident. They also provide the victim with a packet of information describing her rights and services that are available to her. There are two packets, one for Native American women and a general packet, which were jointly developed by RWA and MSH. Officers also are instructed to call an advocate and to record the victim's telephone number on the police report.
After being notified by the police, the advocate contacts the victim to discuss options for a restraining order, leaving to go to a safe location, attending a support group, or any other needed services. The probation officer can obtain the victim's telephone number from the police report and contact her during the pre-trial release investigation. This allows the victim to weigh in on the decision to release the offender while the court process is pending. The probation officer also obtains input from the victim advocate and the victim-witness advocate. The probation officer makes a recommendation about pre-trial release to the judge, and unless the judge is familiar with the case or thinks that the request is unreasonable, the judge usually follows the recommendation.
Unless the victim refuses, the prosecution always requests a no-contact order for the duration of the court process. The Carlton County Prosecutor's Office has a policy to proceed on all cases, even if the victim is uncooperative or unwilling to testify, as long as they have corroborating evidence. Prosecutors have worked with law enforcement to ensure that a thorough report is written, pictures are taken, and the investigation is completed.
After the trial or plea has been entered, the probation officer conducts a pre-sentencing investigation, whereby the officer solicits input from the victim, the prosecution, and advocates. As with the pre-trial release investigation, the judge relies heavily on the recommendations of the pre-sentence investigation. The standard sentence for a misdemeanor first offense is probation for one year with orders to first attend a chemical dependency/substance abuse treatment program, if necessary, followed by a 12-week batterer intervention program. The standard sentence for a gross misdemeanor or a violation of probation is 30 days in jail.
The batterer intervention program is modeled after the Duluth program, but shortened to 12 weeks. The Human Development Center (HDC) is the only batterer intervention provider in Carlton County, and the DAIP provides a Native American group in Duluth. HDC is a private nonprofit organization that provides comprehensive mental health services to the community. The majority of men in the groups are court-ordered by both the civil and criminal courts. Some men volunteer for the program, although they seem to be the least successful. Many volunteers enroll in the program at the suggestion of their lawyer while their case is still pending in hopes that the judge will go easy on them because of they voluntarily participated.
Victim advocacy services are available through several different agencies and organizations. RWA is housed in the courthouse and available to any victim who would like their services. There is one full-time advocate, a part-time advocate, a community educator and many volunteer advocates. Funding for the staff comes from the state Department of Corrections and the United Way. An advocate is on-call 24 hours a day to visit victims when the perpetrator is arrested. For Native American victims, there is a full-time battered women's advocate at the Min No Aya Win Human Services Center on the reservation. Together with 3 other specialty advocates, the domestic violence advocate is located in what will soon be a safe house for women who live on the reservation. There is also a victim-witness advocate who is a court employee available to help victims through the court process. He works closely with the women's advocates by making referrals, forwarding police reports, and notifying people about court dates and proceedings. The victim-witness advocate also handles most of the cases involving battered men.
Currently there are no shelters or safe house networks in Carlton County or on the Fond du Lac reservation, although the community hopes to open a safe house on the reservation in the near future, and to develop a network of safe places for victims throughout the rest of Carlton County. Currently if a victim wants shelter services, the advocates will arrange either for her to stay in a hotel or for transportation to the Duluth shelter.
Training is an ongoing part of the domestic violence response. Many individuals who work on domestic violence issues have been trained in domestic violence, and many of those in Carlton County have been trained by DAIP staff and other sources. The State Supreme Court mandates domestic violence training for all judges in Minnesota. Police officers receive in-service training and domestic violence is included as an option in that curriculum. Training is tailored to meet the requirements of professional continuing education whenever possible. Everyone we spoke with felt that the majority of their staff has had some training in domestic violence.
Also, MSH uses the Non-Violence Council meetings as an opportunity to educate members by setting aside at least 15 minutes each month to provide education and current information. The advocates themselves have all had extensive training from DAIP staff, regional conferences, the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women (MCBW) training and other sources.