Prosecutor's office awarded grants to aid victims of domestic violence Funds from the state will also help victims of juvenile crime

October 02, 1998|By Jill Hudson Neal | Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

The Howard County state's attorney's office has been awarded state grants for programs that will assist victims of domestic violence and juvenile crime, as well as alert parents to the dangers of drug, alcohol and tobacco use in children.

The grants will fund the salaries of a part-time prosecutor who will specialize in domestic violence cases and a staff member who will supervise volunteers helping victims of domestic violence and juvenile crime.

Howard County State's Attorney Marna L. McLendon said she is "grateful that we have added the positions to better focus on the issues of domestic violence and victim assistance in juvenile cases -- the largest growing group of cases in the county."

McLendon said grant proposals "often provide the only way to add staff positions to attend to the issues we believe are so important."

Funding for the part-time prosecutor comes from money

provided in the Violence Against Women Act administered through the Governor's Office on Crime Control and Prevention.

The prosecutor will deal exclusively with domestic violence cases and will work with the Family and Sexual Violence Coordinating Council to help victims as they navigate the criminal justice system.

"It'll be a huge benefit to us to have one person who's totally flexible and dedicated to this," McLendon said. "We also want the prosecutor to focus on assault that's outside of a domestic situation. We have to have a broad way of viewing domestic violence."

Because the grant will fund only a part-time position -- about $22,000 in salary and reduced medical benefits -- McLendon said, the ideal candidate would be "a female attorney who's a mom but who's also interested in keeping a job in law."

Using a local $3,500 grant, two pieces of equipment will be purchased to help prosecutors present evidence in court.

The Victim Assistance Enhancement Project II -- a $29,000 state grant from the Maryland Victims of Crime Fund -- will pay the salary of a staff coordinator for the Domestic Violence Volunteer Program and the juvenile division of the assistance program.

The Domestic Violence Volunteer Program, which began in December, trains and supervises 12 volunteers who are available to victims of domestic violence as their cases progress through the court system.

Denise McCain, director of the Victim Witness Assistance Unit, which coordinates the Domestic Violence Program out of the state's attorney's office in Ellicott City, said she realized there were far too many victims of domestic violence in Howard County who were taking the first step of contacting the police but not filing formal charges against their partners.

"We saw last year that there was a reason why women weren't coming to court to press charges, and that's because women are intimidated by the judicial process," McCain said. "We wanted to bring in a group of volunteers who would be in District Court five days a week to assist women through the entire court process."

The process can be extensive, McCain said. Volunteers help victims of domestic violence file restraining orders against their abusers, establish a safety plan and accompany them when their cases come to court.

The second part of the Victim Enhancement Project grant will help assist victims of juvenile crime. Volunteers will offer assistance in many of the same ways they assist victims of domestic violence.

The "Not My Kid" Community Support for Parents program this year also received $3,500 from the local Law Enforcement Block Grant to purchase videotapes and print brochures targeting parents of elementary, middle and high school-age children.

This month, speakers from the program will be at more than 60 schools on back-to-school nights with a five-minute presentation about the extent of the use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs by Howard students.

With crime figures escalating among young people -- more cases of thefts, assault and battery, property destruction and illegal drugs -- law enforcement officials and the state's attorney's office are turning their attention toward educating parents about drug and alcohol abuse.

The discussions between parents and prosecutors will come as an eye-opener to some parents who might be in denial about their children's drug use, McLendon said.

Parents "have got to hear about what their children are doing," she said. "But parents who have listened to our presentations and tapes say that they're glad to see us out in the schools, that it makes them feel less isolated. I think parents are beginning to realize that they have got to start thinking about these things as early as elementary school."

The program -- a collaborative effort among the state's attorney's office, the Howard school system, the Office Substance Abuse and others -- is something of a pet project for McLendon, who says parents have to be reminded how influential they are in their children's decisions.

"We really want to tell parents to be tougher," McLendon said. "We need them to lay down strong ground rules. By the time we see behavior that's extremely violent, things have been happening that should have sent up a red flag.

"We have to educate everyone to notice these red flags -- not minimalize or ignore it -- before we have a tragic situation," she said.

Pub Date: 10/02/98

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