By Carter Infinger, Bryan County Commission Chairman.
The Bryan County State Court has recently established a Family Violence Court Program (FVCP). This is the first such program in a non-metropolitan jurisdiction and only the fifth in the State of Georgia. This initiative has been established to address the underlying behaviors involved in domestic violence cases to reduce recidivism and help the victims of such cases lead a better life in a safe environment.
Upon taking office in January 2021, Judge Billy Tomlinson recognized the increasing numbers of domestic violence cases and the recidivism inherent in these situations.
“Unfortunately, the clear trend in our county is the disturbing increase in domestic violence cases that must be addressed. Traditional approaches in the past did not look at the root causes creating these situations. Our FVCP addresses that short coming and looks to decrease future crimes by changing behavior,” Tomlinson said.
Similar programs in Georgia have seen recidivism decrease dramatically in a short period of time. The traditional approach in these cases is to send the accused for a domestic violence class and hope the victim will cooperate in prosecuting the crimes. The Family Violence Court Program seeks to identify the underlying cause of the criminal behavior and properly address it. The accused is evaluated for domestic violence, anger management, substance abuse, mental health issues and a rarely thought of component – financial literacy. Once underlying issues are identified, then the appropriate supervised treatment is conducted to help the victims of these crimes lead a better life.
Family violence cases can be especially difficult to address due to the victim and the accused caring for each other, depending on each other and – in many cases – the victims having no knowledge or resources on how to help themselves.
In recognition of this issue, the Bryan County Commission funded a Victim Witness Advocates position within the Office of the Solicitor General of the Bryan County State Court. The purpose of this position is to ensure that victims of crimes are getting the services and attention they deserve as well as being a critical liaison between victims, law enforcement and the solicitor to ensure criminal behavior is addressed.
In addition, Drug Abuse Treatment and Education funds were authorized by the Bryan County Commissioners to be used in the FVCP to ensure that financial barriers are not a hinderance to those who need behavior-changing interventions that would otherwise be unavailable.
Prosecuting domestic violence cases create a myriad of issues for law enforcement and the prosecutor. Victims will recant or not cooperate due to caring for the violator, needing the financial resources of the accused, or not knowing how to change the violent dynamic by leaving the situation or addressing the causes of it. This leads to cases not being prosecutable and the issues causing the violence to go untreated.
Bryan County Solicitor General Don Montgomery said, “The sheriff and chiefs of our law-enforcement agencies have partnered with me to commit to help victims, even when they lose hope for a better life. The goal of the Family Violence Court Program is to help victims of domestic violence have a safer future.”