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Akron Municipal Court Judge Trains In Therapeutic Handling of Domestic Violence Offenders

photo of Judge Kathryn Michael

The Akron Municipal Court’s Family Intervention Court program took part in a training seminar last week examining therapeutic alternatives for handling domestic violence cases.

WKSU's Kabir Bhatia recently spoke with Judge Kathryn Michael about the training, and she says the issue has been a passion of hers since she was an attorney.

“It’s very important that the cycle of domestic violence be broken, so that children don’t grow up thinking that this type of interaction between adults is normal.”

'If we can implement this tool, then judges will be better able to evaluate things like bail and programming.'

Having been a judge for more than a decade, Michael says the new measures for handling domestic violence offenders rely on interviews with the victims and police officers in each case. And that’s much more useful than simply relying on a “gut feeling.”

“We didn’t have any kind of matrix except for a person’s prior record. The new screening tool that we learned about [with New York-based Center for Court Innovation] is better because it includes more risk factors. The whole idea is to give us a better picture of what the triggers are for a particular defendant. We can’t treat the problem if we don’t know what the problem is.”

Michael also hopes to collaborate with other courts – such as Stow and Barberton -- to assess domestic violence offenders. Currently, she says the assessment tool is only given to people who volunteer for the program. In the future, she hopes the assessment will happen soon after an arrest is made.

“The sooner we know what the needs are to break this cycle, the better. We had almost 1,700 domestic violence arrests in our jurisdiction last year. So if we can implement this tool, then judges will be better able to evaluate things like bail and programming, even if a person does not opt into the program.”

Michael says that, even though the assessment program is currently voluntary, there are legislators working to make it mandatory in Ohio.

She credits several community agencies for helping to provide case workers and victim advocates for the program, including Oriana House and Summit Psychological Associates and the Akron City Prosecutor’s Office.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.