Professor Receives $700,000 Grant For Domestic Violence Initiative

Sept. 20, 2004

by Julie Campbell Carlson

The U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women has awarded a $700,000 grant to Dr. Byron Johnson, professor of sociology and Director of the Center for Religious Inquiry Across the Disciplines (CRIAD) at Baylor University, to continue to develop the National Domestic Violence Fatality Review Initiative.

The NDVFRI provides training and technical assistance support to host national training conferences to establish fatality review teams within state and local jurisdictions, as well as within the military. These review teams provide a way of reviewing domestic homicides with the underlying objectives of preventing them in the future, preserving the safety of battered women, and holding accountable both the perpetrators of domestic violence and the multiple agencies and organizations that come into contact with the parties.

"The idea is to bring together people from diverse fields -- ER doctors, law enforcement officers, victim advocates, judges and clergy -- who often deal with domestic violence victims, and to have them review these deaths in a systematic manner. Reviewing data from diverse agencies, the goal is to piece together what really happened, especially leading up to the homicide, and then make recommendations so such tragedies might not happen in the future. For example, fatality review might help identify serious gaps in the delivery of needed social services, as well as suggesting policy changes that might help prevent these tragic episodes from happening in the future," Johnson said.

The initiative began in 1999 and currently 30 states now have fatality review teams. Johnson also received a similar $119,025 Justice Department grant in June to help establish fatality review teams within the military.

"Just the like the civilian world, domestic violence homicides occur within all of the military branches, though it seems to get increased media attention when it involves military

families," Johnson said. "In recent years the military has tried to address the issues of family violence and fatality review is one of the policy initiatives they have decided to implement. The grant we received was to host a conference solely for the Department of Defense to help establish these review teams."

Because the NDVFRI is still in its beginning stage, there has been no formal evaluation of the program. According to Johnson, there will need to be some kind of assessment to determine if these policy changes have made an impact.

"We are presently operating under the assumption that any recommendations to improve intervention strategies to reduce domestic violence will be a step in the right direction, but there is always a need to conduct evaluation research to help us make objective decisions about such initiatives," he said.

Johnson, who received his master's degree and doctorate in criminology, began conducting domestic violence research in 1991. He served as chair of the Tennessee Corrections Board, Department of Corrections; on the Institutional Research Committee at the Federal Correctional Institution-Ashland; on the Community Relations Board for the Federal Correctional Complex, Bureau of Prisons; and on the Executive Committee for the Kentucky Department of Corrections Research Consortium. Johnson also has testified before the Texas House of Representatives Committee on Corrections, the Texas Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, the Texas Board of Criminal Justice and the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary.

For more information, contact Johnson at (254) 710-7555.

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