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Upper Arlington Tests Diversion Court For Domestic Violence Offenders

Dan Keck

Sometimes an incident is different than what it appears. Take this case, as described by Upper Arlington Criminal Justice Program administrator Joe Roush.

“One of the first cases we ever dealt with, a young man was with his family," Roush says. "They were down watching a Blue Jackets game. They stopped and had some beverages after the game was over.”

When they got home, the young man threatened his parents and tore up his house. His parents called the police and they charged him with domestic violence. But Roush says further investigation revealed a hidden factor.

“It appears someone slipped something into his drink thinking it was his sister’s drink,” Roush says.

Normally, in a case like this, the man’s parents might have dropped the charges, and police would be powerless to do anything more – to prevent future incidents.

“We wouldn’t have had the opportunity to explore his background," Roush says. "Was there a problem with this young man? Was there a substance abuse problem?”

Instead, the man entered Upper Arlington's domestic violence diversion program. He went through assessments and counseling. Roush declined to give the man’s name, but says the man has not been involved in domestic violence since the first incident.

Domestic violence cases are among the most difficult to prosecute, according to Roush, because both offenders and victims can sometimes slip through the cracks.

Upper Arlington's court, the only one of its kind in Franklin County, tries to stop domestic violence at the start and settle issues outside the traditional court system.

Behind The Court

Upper Arlington does not have an especially big domestic violence problem, but Roush says the eight-year-old diversion program is valuable.

“There isn’t necessarily a ‘need’ to have it here, it’s just a good option to exercise,” Roush says.

People who go through the program have to be first-time offenders, and the offense must be minor.

“No weapons could be used in the act of violence," Roush says. "No visible injuries. No threats of violence. That kind of stuff."

It must be the first time the defendant is participating in a diversion program or domestic violence counseling. If defendants complete the program, which costs $100 to participate in, their case is dismissed at the next hearing.

Accountability Is Crucial

Ohio Domestic Violence Network director Nany Neylon supports programs like Upper Arlington's. She says the more accountability the better when it comes to domestic violence diversion programs.

“The more people you can have eyes on that behavior for a while, the better off you’re gonna be,” Neylon says. “So it’s not just the counseling program. The court, the probation officer.”

For her, diversion programs should take at least a year in order to correct behavior.

“Anything less than a year is probably not worth talking about," Neylon says.

Upper Arlington’s program length varies case to case.

Unique In Franklin County

The Franklin County Municipal Court handles thousands of domestic violence cases per year, randomly assigning domestic violence cases to one of its 15 judges. It does not have similar diversion programs, although some advocates think it should.

“I think it would be a good tool for other jurisdictions because I’m sure Upper Arlington’s not unique," Roush says. "We have a handful of cases and I’m sure one or two of these don’t need to be in the system."

Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Andrea Peeples says if the program is effective in Upper Arlington, she would like to see ways to roll it out across the state.

“Anything that we can do to take nontraditional domestic violence out of that pool, so we can focus on situations where there’s more immediate or grave danger, the better," Peeples says.

So far, Roush says Upper Arlington’s program has a 100 percent success rate.