Family Justice Center opens in Upper Marlboro
Will provide services, resources for abuse victims
Providing coordinated services and resources for victims of abuse in a welcoming, convenient and secure environment, the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County hosted a ribbon-cutting celebration for its new Family Justice Center on June 9 in Upper Marlboro.
More than 200 county government and agency representatives, community partners and residents gathered outside of the two-story, 13,000-square foot renovated facility, located across the street from the commissioners’ entrance of the courthouse.
The Family Justice Center, an initiative of the circuit court, is the first of its kind in the county that will provide safety planning, counseling, legal assistance and social services to help victims of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, human trafficking, teen relationship violence and elder abuse. To create the new facility, the circuit court
collaborated with about 20 county agencies and nonprofit organizations, most of which are located within the center, according to a press release from the Maryland Courts government website.
“We’re excited because it’s so needed to have that one-stop shop where people can really get served, regardless of their need,” said Arleen B. Joell, CEO and executive director of Community Advocates for Family and Youth, a partner of the center which serves domestic violence victims that reach out to the Prince George’s County Police Department. “Part of what we’re bringing to the table is counseling [and] we offer safe havens in some hotels. We also do financial assistance for when people really have to get out of harm’s way. I think the biggest thing is safety and the ability for people to get triage. … That was one of the things we really wanted and I think they’ve met that need.”
When county officials recommended renovating the space — which was once used to house the district court before being converted to law offices after the Bourne Wing was erected in 1991 — for the new center, Seventh Judicial Circuit Administrative Judge Sheila R. Tillerson Adams thought it was a perfect location given its proximity to the courthouse. Victims can simply walk across the driveway to the Family Justice Center, where they will find all of the resources they need in a welcoming and secure environment, according to the press release.
Adams said the grand opening marks the culmination of seven years of planning and work, as well as the ongoing collective efforts of providers throughout the county to eradicate domestic violence in the community.
“They will get the services they need in one location,” Adams said. “When I first came to Upper Marlboro in 1984 to work in the state’s attorney’s office, this was the district court building [where] we tried our cases, on the ground floor of this building. I’m very excited that we have now come full circle and our Family Justice Center is located right across from the courthouse.”
There are no fees for the services and no appointments needed — clients are welcome to return to the center for additional services as often as needed. The goals of the center include stopping abuse and creating a safer community; providing coordinated, easily accessible help and resources to children and adults exposed to abuse; providing legal assistance to victims of domestic violence, human trafficking, sexual assault, elder abuse and teen relationship violence; providing safety planning, resources and services in an environment where clients feel safe, comfort- able, cared for and respected; fostering a countywide culture of dignity and respect for all in addition to a countywide awareness of violence prevention.
“We are elated because this is a fine, if not the finest example of delivery of justice,” said Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, head of the highest court in the state. “Last year, 42 Marylanders died as the result of domestic violence. In 2015, there were 31,400 protective order cases filed in our district and circuit courts across the state. More than 6,500 protective order petitions were filed last year here in Prince George’s County. Regrettably, but we will fix this, the highest number in the state. That is, again, why the leadership of this county in pulling together this Family Justice Center is so important. These are sobering numbers that speak to the level of need for domestic violence victims and their families. … Here, in Upper Marlboro, the Family Justice Center is located on Main Street, the heart of your community, front and center where people need it to be, mere steps from the courthouse.”
As a judiciary, Barbera said the system strives to build partnerships that are responsive and adaptable to community needs, as well as to ensure the highest level of service in providing effective and accessible justice for all. Both the district and circuit courts will work closely with the center to provide services that will aid victims on their road to recovery from abuse, she said.
“In Prince George’s County, we’re going to have a safety net … that’s a whole bunch of threads twined together to help those who fall,” said County Council Chairman Derrick L. Davis (D). “Domestic violence and other forms of abuse are claiming lives, tearing families apart and leaving our community in shock and grief with each horrible tragedy. … Today’s grand opening of the Family Justice Center, we are, as a community, addressing the unfortunate reality by providing critical resources to protect and assist the domestic violence survivors as they move forward with their lives.”
With the help of a $2.5 million commitment in the fiscal year 2017 county budget adopted by the council a few weeks ago, the funds will bolster front-end investment in a continuum of services and coordinate the efforts of the entire community. The new center is positioned to meet and exceed every expectation, Davis said in a press release from the council’s office.
“Survivors can now take comfort in knowing that when courthouse proceedings are over, they can conveniently make a short walk to 19 service providers located at this one-stop shop,” he said. “You are not alone. We collectively will defeat this scourge.”
“This is the day we’ve waited for for a very, very long time,” State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks said. “This is a personal fight for many of us … when we think about not only the adults who have suffered in this county, but the children we have had, in total at least 12 of them over the last two years, who have suffered and died as a result of this epidemic in our community. Today, we are not here to outline the problem because we are well aware of the problems. But thank God for a solution. … This is our community’s answer.”
When it comes to fighting against domestic violence, law enforcement leaders like Sheriff Melvin High have served victims with peace and protective orders. High said another part of the solution is finding better ways to address their needs and change lives.
“Far too many of our citizens face problems that they feel are theirs to face alone. But the real value of a community is when we can be the hope for those in need and share our collective resources to develop shared solutions,” he said.
Denise C. McCain, a research analyst who will be the director of the new center when it officially opens on June 27, said these types of centers have been proven to decrease homicide rates. If survivors have a safe haven to go to, they won’t have to deal with the obstacles and challenges preventing them access to such services, she said.
“We don’t want to refer anyone anywhere. We want to provide the one-stop shop services here,” McCain, a doctoral candidate at the University of Baltimore, said in an interview. “I would project and predict that we will see much lower rates of violence. Overall, the goal is to have a safer community. We want to stop the violence and I do believe this is going to be the vehicle by which we’re able to accomplish that objective.”
Seventh Judicial Circuit Administrative Judge Sheila R. Tillerson Adams, center, shares a smile with colleagues and county leaders after cutting the ribbon for the new Prince George’s County Family Justice Center during a grand opening celebration on...