Two sites (Baltimore and San Diego) have special domestic violence probation units. San Francisco plans to begin a special probation unit during 1996, but this unit was not fully operational at the time of our site visit. Probation officers have contact with many different interests in a domestic violence case, including batterers, battered women, the courts, and batterer intervention providers. Thus, they are well-positioned to assess the situation and work with both the victim and offender in the case. Probation officers in some of the specialized units try to maintain frequent contact with the victim. As one person put it, domestic violence is one area where "you know who the victim is ahead of time." In Baltimore, for example, probation officers routinely notify the victim about the terms of the probation and provide information about what to do if the offender violates these conditions. They encourage the victim to contact them about problems, and have found that victims are becoming more apt to do so.
Specialization allows probation officers to develop close relationships with batterer intervention providers. Since there are a smaller number of probation officers supervising domestic violence cases, batterer intervention providers often get to know the specialized probation officers better than other officers who may only have a couple of domestic violence cases. As a result, people felt that there was much more interaction on cases and that a probationer's compliance was monitored more closely and problems were identified more quickly.
The special probation units differ across the sites in terms of the type of cases handled and the level of supervision. For example, in San Diego the special probation unit handles only felony domestic violence cases, and misdemeanors are supervised by the court. In San Francisco, on the other hand, the domestic violence probation unit plans to supervise both felony and misdemeanor cases. San Francisco plans to provide the same level of supervision to domestic violence cases as other offenses. The goal of the unit is to improve the response by having officers who are more knowledgeable about domestic violence laws and resources. Alternatively, probation agents in Baltimore's F.A.S.T. unit are assigned smaller caseloads and provide more intensive supervision for domestic violence cases.
Baltimore's Pre-Trial Release Services is the only Pre-Trial Release Program in the country with a specialized domestic violence unit. Similar to Baltimore's probation unit, Pre-Trial Release Services designates domestic violence cases as high priority and provides more intensive supervision for these cases.