Recovery Act Impact: Plymouth County District Court
"The stimulus funds allowed us to focus on domestic violence victims," said Michelle Mawn, director of the Victim's Assistance Program for the Plymouth District Court. "We can now concentrate on this vulnerable population."
The stimulus funds were part of a $930,000 grant to the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance which provided funds to six victim advocacy programs across the state. The Plymouth County District Attorney's Office received $98,131 to retain a full time domestic violence witness advocate and expand on the position.
The Advocate, Lisa Robinson, can now follow a victim from case initiation through the trial, case disposition and conviction. Prior to the stimulus funded program, domestic violence cases were passed from one advocate to another.
"This is consistent, direct advocacy services," said Robinson. "I build a real bond of trust with the victims. The victims feel more supported because they are talking to the same person and there is consistent communication."
Robinson noted that she is able to build a relationship with the victims and provide them with the resources or referrals they might need, such as medical services, shelter, food banks or mental health consultations.
Those relationships take on an increased significance when the victim is called upon to testify in court. Robinson described one case in which a woman, who had immigrated to the US, suffered years of abuse at the hands of her husband. A neighbor eventually reported the abuse but the victim was reluctant to move forward with the case. Robinson was able to meet with her, and support her through the pre trial and arraignment. Robinson also helped the woman find a place at a shelter for her and her young child where she was able to start going to school. The woman was able to testify in court and her husband was convicted.
"If she didn't have support she would have stayed with him," said Robinson. "She was isolated and ignorant of our laws."
For Robinson, it was the support she provided to this woman - and others like her - that makes all the difference. "This stimulus grant allowed me to devote time to domestic violence victims to actively participate in the criminal justice process."
The stimulus funds also enabled Robinson to develop a resource center for victims that provides easy access to information they might need. Robinson is also developing a resource and education center for other advocates. Stimulus funds
"The kids were running around, they were bored and often families don't have money for child care," said Mawn. "The parents would get stressed out. We will provide them with toys, books and other things. This is a much needed and welcome addition to our program."
According to Mawn, Robinson's position was in danger of being eliminated if not for the stimulus funds. "It was a big relief when we heard we got the grant," said Robinson. "We have a lot of ideas to implement and we couldn't have done it with out the ARRA funding."
Mawn agrees. "ARRA funding has allowed us to provide the most comprehensive of services to domestic violence victims."