Domestic abuse is a social phenomenon that perpetuates itself, and thus continues to escalate if not addressed. Criminal sanctions are a key component of society’s response to this crisis, and the Domestic Violence Unit of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office seeks to carry out this responsibility within Essex County. This unit practices vertical prosecution, retaining most cases from screening through resolution, including trial and sentencing when necessary.
Domestic Violence Crisis Response Teams: The majority of municipalities in Essex County have established Domestic Violence Crisis Response Teams. The teams are comprised of civilian volunteers who provide Domestic Violence victims with information regarding criminal charges and obtaining Restraining Orders. Team members also provide referrals to victims regarding counseling, support groups and battered women’s shelters. The Domestic Violence Unit works closely with these Teams to help victims gain both immediate assistance and eventual justice. For additional information regarding Domestic Violence Crisis Response Teams, please contact your local police department or the Domestic Violence Unit of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office at 973-621-6488 or 973-621-2081.
The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office has established an innovative Municipal Court Victims’ Advocate Program. The program was instituted to address the needs of domestic violence victims at the Municipal level, where a majority of domestic violence cases are handled. Victims’ Advocates appear in the Municipal Courts throughout Essex County in order to provide information, support and guidance to domestic violence victims along with referrals for counseling and battered women’s shelters.
The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office has been a lead partner in the establishment of the Essex County Family Justice Center (FJC), the first such Center in New Jersey. The FJC model is recognized as a best practice in the field of domestic violence intervention and prevention by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women. The FJC brings together domestic violence advocates, civil legal service providers and other community-based organizations under one roof, as to provide crisis intervention, safety planning, counseling, self-sufficiency services and access to the criminal justice system through a liaison to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. In May, 2010, the Center opened in temporary space in the Wilentz Justice Complex. In the fall of 2011, the FJC moved to a permanent space at 89 Market St, Newark, NJ where 10 partner agencies provide vital services to victims.
The Domestic Violence personnel continues to play a significant role in the Essex County’s Domestic Violence Working Group. The Unit’s director chairs the Law Enforcement Subcommittee comprising members of law enforcement, the judiciary, victim service providers, probation officers and Domestic Violence Crisis Response Team members. The Domestic Violence Working Group addresses systemic problems in the domestic violence field and endeavors to coordinate the efforts of the various member organizations. The group is instrumental in implementing the dictates of New Jersey’s Domestic Violence Procedures Manual.
Members of the Domestic Violence Unit continue to appear at automatic bail reviews of defendants charged with crimes of domestic violence. These reviews are scheduled before a Superior Court Judge most weekdays. As part of this initiative, the Unit has assumed responsibility for victim notification relative to this automatic bail process. Victim contact, at this early stage of the prosecution, enables the Assistant Prosecutor to better assess the merits of the case.