For some perpetrators of domestic violence, intensive counseling might be more effective than criminal charges, some Lawrence officials say.
Starting Monday, persons accused of domestic violence will be eligible to apply for a new diversion program developed by Douglas County Dist. Atty. Christine Kenney Tonkovich and Women's Transitional Care Services.
To be eligible, Tonkovich said, the accused must have no history of violent behavior, be amenable to counseling, and be facing only misdemeanor criminal charges.
Nor can those accused of violating a protection order participate in the program, Tonkovich said. Those accepted into the program will receive counseling through the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, Heartland Clinical Consultants or a program in Johnson County. Tonkovich said charges won't be brought against those in diversion unless they fail to complete the program.
"What we hope is to first encourage individual participation and then participation from the family or domestic relation, if that's what the victim wants," Tonkovich said.
Additional therapy, such as substance abuse counseling or parenting classes, also might be required.
Tonkovich said she developed the program because "dealing with the underlying issues of violent relationships is not ideal for the justice system."
She said she was not aware of any similar programs elsewhere in the state.
"What I have seen, for 11-and-a-half years as a prosecutor, is a steady stream of cases of domestic violence," she said. "I'm not seeing a decrease, either."
Last year, the district attorney's office filed just under 2,000 criminal cases; 10 percent were misdemeanor battery cases relating to domestic violence. Tonkovich said that percentage did not include charges of criminal trespassing or violation of protection orders.
"I think that's a significant number, but not all of those (10 percent) would be eligible," for diversion, she said. She had no estimates of how many people might qualify annually for the new program.
Tonkovich's office and WTCS also plan to form a group called the Community Coalition on Domestic Violence Issues. It will include representatives from various local agencies who deal with domestic violence and related concerns.