The 2018 Criminal Justice Reform Report to the Governor and Legislature, released on April 2, provides evidence that a risk based approach to pre-trial safety can both protect the constitutional rights of the accused and safeguard the public at large. Partners for Women and Justice congratulates New Jersey’s Administrative Office of the Courts for its leadership and success in abolishing bail.
The State’s continued reliance upon a general pretrial risk assessment (the Public Safety Assessment) (“PSA”) to make determinations about pretrial in domestic violence cases, however, has resulted in the release of some perpetrators who pose a lethal or near-lethal threat to their intimate partner, despite their low scores on the PSA. Because the PSA misses important domestic violence risk indicators, Partners supports the judiciary’s plan to develop a specific domestic violence risk assessment tool and calls upon the judiciary and the legislature to fund and prioritize this work immediately. It is likewise imperative that the State appropriate adequate funding of the pre-trial services program in order to continue to develop a more robust system of pre-trial services and supervision for defendants released to the community.
In New Jersey in 2016, the most recent year that statistics are available, there were 52 domestic violence homicides. Since the implementation of criminal justice reform, three women have been killed by former partners who were awaiting trial on prior domestic violence charges. It is all too easy for the PSA and the courts to fail to register the danger that some of these perpetrators present. Crimes such as stalking and non-fatal strangulation are correlated with increased risk of homicide, for instance, but may not result in any observable injuries to the victim. “We know that most acts of domestic violence are never reported to the police,” Jane Hanson, Executive Director of Partners, observes. “And witness intimidation is common in cases of intimate partner violence which often results in dismissal of pending charges.” She concludes: “These two factors alone help explain how a defendant can pose a significant danger to his partner and yet not have any criminal history.”
The adoption of a specific domestic violence risk assessment tool by itself is not enough to safeguard victims of intimate partner violence. That is why Partners is calling on the Attorney General to convene a Working Group or Task Force on Domestic Violence risk
to identify and develop effective strategies for a more risk-informed coordinated community response to domestic violence.
Partners for Women and Justice empowers low-income survivors of domestic violence to build safe and secure futures for themselves and their children. We offer quality legal assistance in domestic violence and family law matters and work with the courts to ensure equal access to justice for all, including litigants who do not speak English. Our programs of free legal assistance focus on family court proceedings involving restraining orders, child and spousal support, visitation and custody.