Fam­ily Jus­tice Cen­ter opens in Up­per Marl­boro

Will pro­vide ser­vices, re­sources for abuse vic­tims

The Enquire-Gazette - - Front Page - By JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES [email protected]­news.com

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...

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