“If you want to travel fast, go alone. If you want to travel far, go together.”
Earlier this year people asked how do we know what to put in a bill. I promised to write about how we’re putting together bills relating to domestic violence in preparation for next session.
A couple years ago I started thinking about three things where our society has really changed behavior – smoking; seatbelts; and drinking and driving. Watch an episode of Mad Men, and – if you’re old enough – you’re shocked at how common these things were.
I started looking at reports about domestic violence, and it looks like, despite changes in laws, there hasn’t really been a lot of changes in behavior.
It’s a complicated problem, and I’m not an expert. But it seems clear we need to try something different.
It’s not possible to get people to focus on new ideas during the hectic legislative session. And it’s not possible to pass new ideas into law unless you get a group of stakeholders (sorry, I hate that word, but that’s a litmus test in the legislature) to support it.
Legislators can call people together for a meeting. We usually have more success getting state agencies to participate, because we deal with state laws and budgets. But sometimes it’s harder to get county agencies to the table. And the four county Police Departments and Prosecutors’ Offices are key to any bills on domestic violence.
So the Women’s Legislative Caucus (I’m one of the four co-conveners) decided to start with the Attorney General’s Office, because they are the lead law enforcement agency for the state. In addition, they also funnel to the counties all the federal funds and grants relating to domestic violence and victim support services.
Our AG is a former prosecutor. He immediately agreed to co-sponsor discussions with the counties and judiciary to see if we could develop strategies that would lead to a reduction in domestic violence.
Next we asked the Judiciary, another branch of the state, to join the effort. The Chief Justice is also supportive, provided that when we meet with them, we understand that the judiciary is not an advocate, must remain neutral, and can only meet if both prosecutor and public defenders are at the table.
We will be meeting with advocates in August, and then set up meetings in each of the four counties with the AG, courts, police departments, prosecutors, public defenders and advocates to discuss ideas.
I don’t have a particular solution in mind. All I want to focus on the overall system of how we’re handling domestic violence incidents, and figure out what we can do within the criminal justice system to see a reduction in violence within families.
I know much of the problem has to be addressed outside of the justice system. But certainly, this system has a big role to play as well.
It takes longer to bring everyone around the table. And there’s no guarantee the group will reach agreement on anything. But I think there is no chance of changing behavior unless we travel together.
I’ll share the ideas that come out of the discussions. We’d welcome ideas from readers as well.