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Domestic Violence Court Provides Alternative to Incarceration

Prosecutors determine which cases are appropriate for transfer to the Domestic Violence Court, created in 2006 to better address the serious problem.
(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.)  In 2013, St. Joseph police responded to more than 3,200 domestic disturbance calls, about an average of close to ten per day. In the past, maybe nothing was done with many of these cases.

"A lot of times domestic violence cases would be filed," said Keith Marquart, Associate Circuit Judge for Buchanan County. "The victim would often bond out the defendant and then the victim would come to court in a week or two and want the case dismissed and nothing was ever done."

That doesn't happen anymore thanks to Domestic Violence Court, created in 2006 partially through the work of Marquart working with the Buchanan County Prosecutor's Office and area service agencies.

The prosecutor's office evaluates every domestic violence case carefully before determining if a case is appropriate for Domestic Violence Court.

"First of all, I look at their history," said Assistant Prosecutor Kristina Zeit, who primarily handles all the Domestic Violence Court cases. "I always contact the victim and talk to the victim before making an ultimate decision about what has to happen. Do they have a violent history in that relationship or other relationships?"

Instead of jail time for eligible offenders, there is the chance for treatment. The 52-week program addresses anger issues, education and even addresses substance abuse.

"This isn't a punishment, said Lisa Doyle, director of Addiction Awareness, the St. Joseph agency that treats the offenders. "This is to help them turn around the characteristics that were causing them relationship problems."

The program handles 65 people at a time. Marquart says these are people who are working to improve themselves instead of being incarcerated.

"The jail is not overcrowded," he said. "We're not expending money over at the jail for incarceration and we're actually making people's lives better."

At the end of one year of treatment, those involved in the program see results.

"For those that actually start the program, we have an over 50 percent success rate of them completing the program," Doyle said. "It's really amazing to see the changes in those clients."

Judge Marquart says other counties are wanting to create domestic violence courts similar to the one in Buchanan County.

He says they have receive recent visits from representatives from Springfield, St. Charles, Branson and other locations looking to model similar programs.
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