Award-Winning Stearns County Domestic Violence Partnership Continues to Garner Attention

  • 12/18/2012
  • Legal Services State Support

Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid Contributes to Ground-Breaking Project

From a fledgling experiment beginning in 2008 when Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall invited criminal justice system partners together to look at how the system was working with domestic violence cases, to the first-in-the-nation repeat felony domestic violence court, now operational for 3 full years, the Stearns County Domestic Violence Court is a permanently-funded criminal justice solution for repeat offenders and their victims.

The Stearns County Domestic Violence Partnership formed after research revealed that all of the county’s recent previous intentional homicides involved domestic violence. It also showed that approximately 30 Stearns County repeat felony offenders were committing about 100 new felony domestic violence offenses a year, traditional court responses were not working, and 85% of the repeat violence victims had children. Prosecutors, defense attorneys, legal aid attorneys, judges, corrections, the battered women’s shelter, mental health and chemical dependency professionals and law enforcement came together and received two competitive grants to fund 4 positions for 2 years: a specialized probation officer, a domestic violence victim assistance coordinator, a surveillance agent to enforce court orders 24/7, and a 70% time legal aid attorney for victim family legal needs – provided by Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s St. Cloud office. By having access to their own attorney to address a wide variety of issues including safety, housing, income, and the criminal justice process, victims have options and information as they make decisions critical to their families safety. The program uses intensive supervision, accountability and support, including drug and alcohol testing, access to treatment and strict no contact and behavior conditions for offenders. Offender crime reduction following entry into the program is dramatic.

The Center for Court Innovation (CCI), a VAWA-funded New York agency specializing in domestic violence court establishment and research, reports that the Stearns County DVC is the only repeat felony domestic violence court program in the United States.

The program has been nominated for multiple national awards, and partners have been invited to present at notable conferences to encourage other jurisdictions to replicate the program.

Awards and recognition for the Partnership include the following:

• The Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC) gave State recognition to the Partnership with the 2012 County Achievement Award for “Innovations in Government” that improved the quality of life in Minnesota. Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall was also recognized with the 2012 Outstanding Service Award for her work in spearheading the Partnership.

• The Partnership was featured in the Summer 2012 Center for Court Innovation (CCI) newsletter. The project will be featured as one of 10 innovative criminal justice practices in the nation at the Innovations in Criminal Justice Summit II Conference in February 2013. The conference is sponsored by CCI and the Bureau of Justice Assistance – U.S. Department of Justice.

• The Partnership presented at 2012 National Center for Victims of Crime National Conference (Sept. 2012) and panelists featured were Janelle Kendall, Stearns County Attorney; Ann Cofell, Mid- Minnesota Legal Aid Deputy Director; the Honorable Kris Davick-Halfen, Judge with the 7th Judicial District; and Patty Hackett, Anna Marie’s Alliance Child/Youth Services Coordinator.

• The Partnership presented at the 17th International Conference on Violence, Abuse, and Trauma (Sept. 2012) and panelists included Janelle Kendall and Mark Sizer, Stearns County Human Services Administrator, discussing the creation and maintenance of the program.

• This month (Dec. 2012) Partnership members will give presentations on Developing Systems to Meet Community Needs and Changing County Government Systems at the National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA) and Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC) conferences.

• On Wednesday, January 16, 2013, the project will receive a local government Innovation Award from InCommons. Read more about the award here:

Find more information about the Stearns County Domestic Violence Partnership at

  • Family Law / Domestic Violence