Victims of family violence can face a complex web of services to unravel and great distances to travel to get the help they need to recover from the crime. But a collaboration is underway in Jefferson County that aims to change all that by providing a one-stop shop for victims of crime called the Family Justice Center, where safety, support and services will be conveniently and readily available.
The center is a way to put in place the “national best practice” for victims of family violence such as child abuse, domestic violence, elder abuse, sex trafficking and sexual assault, says Candace Cooledge, a prosecutor in the 1st Judicial District Attorney’s Office that serves Jefferson and Gilpin counties.
The center will provide resources for victims of all ages including legal and other support services that crime victims need, but it will also have a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere that would potentially include a children’s play area, a hair salon and even a Dress for Success program. In the wake of violence, victims often lose jobs because of their inability to work, and the Dress for Success program, which provides clothing and advice on how to dress for job interviews, and a hair salon at the center could make it easier for victims to receive meaningful help for getting themselves back on their feet.
“We want victims to walk in and say, ‘Wow, this is beautiful,’” says Casey Gwinn, president and co-founder of the Alliance for Hope International that is working to help launch a Family Justice Center in the 1st Judicial District.
The Alliance is collaborating with more than 50 agencies including the Lakewood Police Department, Family Tree, the Action Center, Ralston House and many more organizations to meet the challenge of opening the doors to a new center.
“I’ve worked in law enforcement for more than 30 years, and I’ve witnessed the devastating impacts on victims, particularly those in family violence cases. There generally hasn’t been enough help for victims of crime,” says Lakewood Police Chief Dan McCasky. “We’re trying to change that and change it for generations to come.”
McCasky’s commitment to launching the center includes working to create a team within his Investigation Division of detectives that would be assigned to work with the Family Justice Center.
First Judicial District Attorney Pete Weir praises the “collaboration between stakeholders across the spectrum of our community” working on the center. He notes that domestic violence remains a pervasive problem in society, and the center is one step in addressing it. “We need to step up our efforts. Enough is enough.”
Last year’s combined statistics from Jefferson and Gilpin counties are troubling, with more than 1,600 misdemeanor cases and nearly 400 felonies directly linked to family violence. “Women who have been strangled or choked are 750 percent more likely to be killed by the same man,” Gwinn says.
Family Justice Centers are based on a framework created by Gwinn’s San Diego-based nonprofit. The centers bring service providers and those who would benefit from them together in one location to enhance public safety, help reduce violent crime rates, unite communities in support of crime victims, save tax dollars and increase overall effectiveness. There are more than 130 centers currently operating worldwide and another 100 in the planning stage including the one for the 1st Judicial District. Each is designed to be as unique as the community they serve.
“It’s a blank slate here. What will work best for Jefferson and Gilpin counties? We’ll be doing multiple focus groups with survivors” to determine the form the center should take, Gwinn explains.
The Rose Andom Center opened in Denver just over one year ago, and the coalition in the 1st Judicial District has been keeping close tabs on that project.
Gwinn, a leading advocate for decreasing family violence because of his prior work as San Diego’s elected city attorney, notes that the framework for a center is “simple to talk about, complex to implement.”
Even so, centers in other parts of the country have created a proven track record, with a decrease of 90 percent or more in family violence-related homicides in Brooklyn and San Diego. The centers “allow victims and their kids to come to one place” rather than forcing them to visit dozens of far-flung organizations, Gwinn says. This is “just logical. Victims are more likely to work with law enforcement (to prosecute the criminal case) when their needs are being met.”
Getting services to crime victims is critical especially in family violence cases because children who witness or experience domestic violence are three times more likely to continue such behavior themselves, Gwinn says.
The Alliance for Hope has also measured factors like resiliency, satisfaction of life, well-being, goal realization and safety, and it has found that all of these outcomes for victims improve when they have a sense of hope for recovering from the crime.
“This is about hope,” he says. “Hope is a science, not just an idea.”
For more information on the center or to participate in its planning, contact Deputy District Attorney Candace Cooledge at 303-271-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
An important note: If you or someone you know is in a relationship involving family violence and would like help or information, please contact Lakewood Police’s 24-hour Victim Assistance Unit at 303-987-7191 or email@example.com. Another invaluable resource is Family Tree’s Women In Crisis program, which supports victims across the metro area by offering a “How to Help” guide for family and friends as well as legal services, a safe house and many other resources.