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First of its kind court cuts down on repeat domestic violence offenders in Kansas City

Posted at 8:25 PM, Dec 26, 2018

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Judge Courtney Wachal’s docket is full every Thursday.

“Domestic violence is a major epidemic. DV’s are a broad classification. It’s assault, violation of protective order, child abuse, child endangerment," Wachal said.

In Kansas City, so many domestic violence cases come through Wachal’s doors. But a fairly new program is in place to try and ensure they don’t come back.

“Many of the offenders on the compliance docket have been to prison. They’ve been on state probation, so it’s a tough start,” Wachal said. “Because they’re like, 'Why would I do this for my municipal court case?'”

Wachal oversees the compliance docket in Kansas City Municipal Court. It started in 2015, made up of offenders on probation with a history of domestic violence. But Wachal stresses that this is far from your typical probation hearing.

“I get to know the people on this docket. They have to see me at least once a month," Wachal said.

People on the compliance docket are usually there via plea agreement. If they violate any part of the strict probation, Judge Wachal and/or Accountability Coordinator Megan Sartin can put them behind bars.

“A lot of the participants don’t like me,” Sartin said. “Because they think I’m the mean one, and I’m okay with that.”

In addition to the strict supervision, and random drug testing, the offenders must attend a series of classes: education courses, basic life skills, anger management, substance abuse counseling, etc.

Together, Judge Wachal and her staff are coming up with the best practices for increasing offender accountability. And it seems to be working.

In the last 18 months, only 27 of the 85 people assigned to the compliance docket became re-offenders. That’s a recidivism rate of 32 percent, compared to 50 percent nationwide.

“To see those changes in the people that successfully complete the docket, a new confidence, a new reason for existing in life,” Wachal said as she recalls the looks on the faces of those success stories. “It’s very rewarding.”

Kansas City is the only municipal court in the nation with such a compliance docket. The court has received what’s called a Mentor Court Distinction. Courts from across the state, and country have stopped by to learn the best practices to increase offender accountability. Members of the court hope to expand the program in the coming months.