Allegheny County Courts and Department of Human Services
Strengthening Efforts to Hold Domestic Violence Offender Accountable and Improve Battering Intervention Programs
Adoption of Best Practices
There have been many improvements to Allegheny County’s criminal justice response to crimes of DV, designed to support victims through this difficult period and provide the support they need to stay engaged with the legal process, which is generally a key factor in holding offenders accountable. When the Pittsburgh Police Department makes a DV arrest, the criminal preliminary hearings are heard in specialized DV sessions held in the Pittsburgh Municipal Court. The sessions were designed so that DV victims who have to appear to testify in these cases could see that they were not alone and could receive supportive services from DV program advocates at the court hearings, as well as in advance through early outreach (telephone contact prior to the hearing). In addition, there is a DV Unit of five specialist prosecutors in the Allegheny County DA’s Office who:
- prosecute the criminal cases in the specialized IPV criminal preliminary hearing sessions in Pittsburgh Municipal court;
- provide vertical advocacy, as do the DV program legal advocates
- prosecute most crimes of IPV from across the county at the Court of Common Pleas level, where there is a specialized DV Court for repeat defendants of IPV crimes
- handle PFA violation cases if the violation is criminal in nature
and are on call 24/7 to answer questions from law enforcement from across the county.
There are five specially designated Allegheny County Adult Probation officers to supervise batterers who have been convicted. Police receive twenty hours of specialized training on domestic violence at both the City and County Police Academy to learn more about DV dynamics, law and procedure, evidence collection, and officer safety from a team of DV program advocates and attorneys, special prosecutors, and police DV specialists.
Established in 2003, Allegheny County Domestic Violence Court is a specialized court that was developed to improve the safety of victims assaulted by an intimate partner and increase the accountability of repeat offenders.
Strengthening Battering Intervention
While there has been a great deal of research published to inform best practices in sex offender accountability, the research on effective practices for preventing batterers from reoffending is not as well developed. Over recent years, Allegheny County Department of Human Services, the DA’s office, the courts, researchers, FISA Foundation, Women’s Center and Shelter and others have been working together to strengthen Battering Intervention efforts in the county. This began with looking at published research.
- In March, 2011 Patricia Cluss, PhD, and Alina Bodea, MD, MPH at the University of Pittsburgh completed a review of scholarly research, The Effectiveness of Batterer Intervention Programs: A Literature Review and Recommendations for Next Steps (commissioned by FISA Foundation).
- 2012 – Allegheny County Department of Human Services initiated an RFP process that required providers of Battering Intervention Programs to articulate their intervention process and rationale, and then were monitored for compliance to the model in use. Offenders were required to pay for BIP out of pocket, as is the case throughout most of the US.
- 2013 – The Pennsylvania Commission for Crime and Delinquency awarded a research grant to support in depth comparative documentation of local BIP models.
- 2013 – FISA Foundation convened a cross disciplinary meeting of experts to discuss the intersections between Sex Offender Treatment and Battering Intervention Programs to facilitate information exchange and peer learning.
- 2014 – Allegheny County DHS in partnership with the Allegheny County Jail issued a second RFP for Battering Intervention Programs. Successful proposers were certified by DHS and the Fifth Judicial District of Pennsylvania to provide BIP for offenders referred by the courts, child welfare, and other sources. Batterers are still expected to pay out of pocket on a sliding scale, however, DHS entered into a contract with certified providers to supplement batterers’ fees and allow the programs to be financially sustainable. More rigorous monitoring and data collection is being implemented. Additionally, FISA Foundation approved a grant to Futures Without Violence to provide training and technical assistance to certified BIP providers and to the courts, DHS, victim services and others to promote local adoption of national best practices.
This is an active learning process for all partners. It is hoped that the collaborative approach will allow Allegheny County to learn quickly about what is effective and to refine local practices and share knowledge with others in the field.
In addition to the current focus on improving Battering Intervention, a cross-disciplinary team of providers throughout Allegheny County has also focused on accountability for sex offenders.