Often, mothers with small children can't afford to spend hours in court and may have to forego a fight for justice only to get their kids off the school bus.
Others, fearful for their very lives, may have too much time to reconsider, during long hours spent waiting in a courthouse.
To that end, East Hampton's domestic violence agency, The Retreat, has partnered with Brighter Tomorrows to offer a new, streamlined automated process for bringing petitions to court on behalf of victims.
The technology is critical at a time when domestic violence calls to The Retreat for help have tripled since 2010, experts said. But, the reason for the dramatic surge in calls is not an alarming increase in domestic violence but instead, a testament to raised awareness — victims now know that they are not alone and have organizations ready to help, said staff at The Retreat.
“The new process has already cut paper processing and court-waiting times for some domestic violence victims from over two hours to under 15 minutes — and enables victims to come before a judge much sooner when they are seeking a variety of protections, including ‘Stay Away’ orders,” said Cristina Banados, Director of Advocacy at The Retreat. “Now a client can be done with everything within three to four hours total, rather than spending a whole day in court.”
Banados said the new, computer-generated documents also help to allow for critical details to be documented, so no detail is left out, allowing for a greater chance of petitions being granted and greater efficiencies for court judges and clerks.
The Retreat and Brighter Tomorrows, two nonprofits dedicated to addressing and preventing domestic violence, completed training in December for what is called the “Domestic Violence Advocate Assisted Petition Program,” an innovation made possible in part based on grant funding obtained by the Hon. Judy Harris Kluger’s Office of Policy and Planning, Banados said.
One key feature of the new program is the replacement of manually hand-written documents with data being entered directly into a user-friendly, web-based system integrated with the Family Court’s case management system.
Data can be entered with password security by domestic violence advocates from any computer, including from a counseling/advocacy office or safe shelter, places that are often more comfortable to victims than a courthouse, Banados said.
The streamlined process also reduces data-entry for court personnel, saving time and reducing chance for error, and enables judges’ caseloads to flow more swiftly.
“The ability to file a petition at our Touro Law Center office and various other satellite sites has served to relieve our clients of the distraction and anxiety a court setting can often present”, said Dawn Brown, Executive Director of Brighter Tomorrows. “Advocates report that they are better able to establish effective interpersonal relationships with clients, thus allowing the victim to more freely disclose intimate details.”
In the pilot program, The Retreat is partnering/applying the technology with the Riverhead Family Court and Brighter Tomorrows is partnering/applying the technology with the Central Islip Family Court.