Panel: Consolidate domestic violence efforts

Mississippi State NewsBy Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – A legislatively created task force is recommending that a new state commission be created to consolidate the efforts of multiple agencies to combat domestic violence.

The proposal, made Thursday during a news conference at the state Capitol by the Domestic Violence Task Force, has the backing of Gov. Phil Bryant.

Bryant, who attended the news conference, said it would be “a win, win” to direct federal and state grants dedicated to curbing domestic violence to a new agency. He said it would help the victims, make it easier for law enforcement and even reduce costs in the long run.

Currently grants are directed to the departments of Health, Mental Health and Public Safety.

“We believe this reorganizational step will result in better accountability and improvement of services for victims,” said Sandy Middleton, chairwoman of the task force and executive director of the nonprofit Center for Violence Prevention.”

The Task Force report cited what it said are inefficiencies in the current system by pointing out that the Department of Health cannot account for grants totaling $591,519 it received in fiscal years 2011 and 2012 from the Victims of Domestic Violence Fund.

But Mike Lucious, deputy state health officer and chief administrative officer for the Department of Health, said the funds are still in the state treasury because a change in law is needed for his agency to have the authority to expend them.

The funds are derived from fees, such as on marriage licenses and bonds for people charged with domestic violence and are supposed to go to domestic violence shelters across the state. But state law caps how much the Department of Health can provide to the shelters, and the revenue generated is more than that amount.

Lucious said the Department of Health has worked with the task force and wants to continue to do so, but said, “I am not sure creating another state agency to manage the funds is the answer.”

It will be up to the Legislature to decide whether to advance a bill to create another agency – dubbed the Commission Against Interpersonal Violence by the task force. The new agency would manage the funds and develop standards for entities that provide services to domestic violence victims.

“By broadening the term to interpersonal violence, the Task Force includes the crimes of domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, trafficking, child sexual abuse and related crimes,” Middleton said.

Attorney General Jim Hood recently said that through education efforts the instances of domestic violence in the state are declining. Mississippi once led the nation in the number of domestic violence homicides, but dropped “to the mid-20s in recent years,” Hood said. In 2011, the state inched back up.

Hood said domestic violence is often committed by people who grew up in households where there was domestic violence.

“It is a cycle we can break,” he said.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com