Anyone in an abusive relationship who needs help can call the national domestic violence helpline at 800.799.7233.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kent County Board of Commissioners is dedicating $4 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to help make a domestic violence court in Kent County.
Domestic violence continues to take lives as dozens have been lost across the state this year. It’s why Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker wants to change the system handling these cases.
“The goal is to bring down domestic violence homicides,” Becker told News 8 on Sunday afternoon. “Hopefully identify those offenders that are moving down that road and trying to stop them from getting there. … And also have a more robust response and really make people understand that we don’t tolerate domestic violence in Kent County.”
Becker and the Kent County Domestic Violence Community Coordinated Response Team fought for years to secure the funding for a domestic violence court. Now that it is finally happening, Becker says it will make a tremendous difference, calling it a “game changer.”
“It’s a huge thing that we got,” Becker said. “And it’s going to make a difference for everybody.”
In a domestic violence court, a single judge is dedicated to overseeing an entire family’s case. Thanks to that specialized attention, Becker believes it will do a better job of holding offenders accountable in changing their ways.
“You’re really trying to change their behavior and hold them accountable if they don’t,” Becker said. “It’s really an intensive probation with maybe even jail time to hopefully get them out of that circle of violence that they’re in.”
They will meet with judges often, either weekly or biweekly.
“There is just something about a probation officer telling you one thing, versus the man or woman in the black robe,” Becker said. “The natural reaction is, ‘Wow, I got a judge on me telling me this.’ They take it more seriously for whatever reason.”
Becker said this process is much different than normal probation, where offenders “maybe show up once a month for a probation officer.”
“The domestic violence court, the way it works, they’re bringing them in much more than that,” Becker said. “A judge gets involved and talks to them, asking them questions, like, ‘Are you going through the counseling?’ Most of these have counseling with anger management or control.”
A top priority for the court: supporting victims every step of the way.
“Whatever it may be that they need,” Becker said. “Housing, food, job, childcare, there’s a whole host of things. And just to have that friendly person that they can reach out to.”
Becker said helping victims goes beyond monetary support — it’s also about social workers reaching out and working with them.
“(We’ve) got to get a way to help them through a very difficult time in their lives,” Becker said. “You got to get out there and really work with the victim and provide the support.”
“So many victims feel like they’ve done something wrong, ‘This is my fault, I deserved it,’” Becker said. “There’s a lot of psychological things that go on there. To have social workers that work with these victims and say ‘No, this isn’t right. This sort of behavior isn’t normal in a relationship.’ It’s not just monetary but it’s also psychological.”
Becker hopes to set up two domestic violence courts in Kent County sometime next year, prioritizing more severe cases. The prosecutor elaborated that choosing candidates for domestic violence court is based on seeing a pattern in their behavior.
“We’re not going to get every single person in there because we want to focus on those people who are really the problems and who are looking at even moving down the roads toward fatality,” he said.
The $4 million in funding will support the court for three years, Becker said. But he said he’s confident they can rely on federal and state grants as well as foundation funding to support the program into the future.