Assessing Risk in Judicial Settings

April 23, 2024


This podcast focuses on assessing risk and lethality and using intimate partner violence (IPV) risk assessments in judicial settings. Featured guest speakers are: Danielle Pugh, Senior Director of Judicial Education and Leadership at the Center for Justice Innovation, Judge Million (Tucson Domestic Violence Court), chair of the Arizona Supreme Court Standing Committee on the Impact of Domestic Violence and the Courts, Sheila Schwanekamp, Esquire, consultant and recently retired court attorney referee for the New York State courts, and Judge Greenough, Chief Administrative Judge for the Tulsa County Coordinated Domestic Violence Court and with the Tulsa County District Court. The Arizona Intimate Partner Risk Assessment Instrument System (APRAIS) and Judicial Domestic Violence (DV) Risk Guide are discussed in this podcast.

Sarah Henry: Welcome to this DV RISC podcast series on the use of intimate partner violence risk assessments and models in different settings. Today’s episode is focused on assessing risk from the bench. My name is Sarah Henry, and I’m the Senior Attorney with Ujima, the National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community.  I’m your host for today’s episode. 

Our guest speakers for today are Danielle Pugh, Judge Wendy Million, Sheila Schwanekamp, and Judge Kelly Greenough.

Danielle Pugh is the Senior Director of Judicial Education and Leadership at the Center for Justice Innovation. In this capacity, she co-leads the immediate and long-term visions of the Gender and Family Justice Team at the Center. Danielle supervises and implements training and technical assistance on several topics impacting civil, family, and criminal responses to gender-based violence. She provides judicial training and leadership programs to courts nationally and internationally. 

Judge Wendy Million has presided for 13 years over a dedicated domestic violence court in Tucson, Arizona. In 2017, and again in 2023, the court was named a National Domestic Violence Mentor Court by the Office on Violence Against Women at the U.S. Department of Justice. Judge Million is the chair of the Arizona Supreme Court Standing Committee on the Impact of Domestic Violence and the Courts. She has been a faculty presenter for the Center for Justice Innovation, the National Judicial College, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and the Arizona State University Family Violence Center, the High Conflict Institute, and Arizona Judicial Conference.

Sheila Schwanekamp, Esquire, is a consultant and recently retired court attorney referee for the New York State courts, where she heard family offense, custody, and matrimonial cases in the Integrated Domestic Violence Courts, and she’s a member of the Erie County Integrated Domestic Violence and Mentor Court. Sheila chaired the New York State Eighth Judicial District Committee that developed the New York State Family Court Judicial Guide to Domestic Violence Risk Factors in conjunction with the Office of Court Administration, and has worked with the Center for Justice Innovation on updating the New York State judicial guides and development of the New York State Civil Attorney Guide to Domestic Violence Risk Factors.

Judge Kelly Greenough has served as the Tulsa County District Court and has been on the bench since 2016. She is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and the University of Tulsa College of Law.  Judge Greenough serves as the Chief Administrative Judge for the Tulsa County Coordinated Domestic Violence Court and, in addition to other duties, holds a monthly compliance docket for felony offenders. Together with two other judges and a DV Court coordinator, Judge Greenough oversees the DV Court’s mission of holding offenders accountable to improve community safety. 

Sarah Henry: Danielle, thanks for joining us today. I want to turn to you first to discuss broad information on IPV risk assessments and judges from the national technical assistance perspective. What are some common TA questions you’re receiving around judges who want to utilize IPV risk assessments? 

Danielle Pugh: First, there is an increasing acknowledgment that there is a need for a DV-specific way to assess for risk. Many communities have used general risk assessments, such as the public safety assessment, the PSA tool, to assess for risk and determine detention or release conditions, and they realized that that has not really met the needs for intimate partner violence cases.

And so, with that, we get a lot of questions on what are even the risk factors in intimate partner violence cases? So just training on that. 

What does it mean to assess risk from the bench? When is it appropriate, when is it not appropriate? How do I determine the appropriate tool that helps me assess for risk? What are the implementation requirements or criteria that are needed with that tool?  And what are the capacity needs, and who is going to administer that tool?  I think capacity and cost are also a big question when we’re getting TA requests from judges around the country.  And really looking at, I have this tool, such as the PSA I mentioned, and how do I use a DV-specific tool together and so that I’m meeting both needs in our community? So those are some of the big questions that we get. 

Sarah Henry: You mentioned assessing risk from the bench.  That really is a term of art.  Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

Danielle Pugh: Sure. I think of it, most simply, as, what risk factors are you taking into your analysis around the cases before you?  And how are you using those appropriately to address your protection order case, your family law case, your criminal case? What do you need to know around these risk factors to assess what you’re going to do around detention and release conditions? So, basically, taking those risk factors and taking the best information so that the judge can make the best decisions with the information that that judge gets. 

Sarah Henry: What decision making can these assessments inform in criminal court? And how do they differ from what they can be used for in civil court?

Danielle Pugh: I’d like to just acknowledge that when we have criminal court judges and civil court judges in the room, there’s often a longing to have some of the resources that criminal court judges have. So they have probation, they may have GPS monitoring, et cetera, and absent of that in civil cases and family law cases, that may make it really hard in terms of judges really using risk assessments and what they can do. So, first and foremost, a lot of information that comes from a risk assessment may inform pretrial decisions or may inform how somebody at first arraignment or first appearance, what this judge is going to do. How this person scored on their risk assessment will determine what kind of conditions are going to go in place in this order.

Sarah Henry: And what kind of trends are you seeing in the field for TA?

Danielle Pugh: The trends are an uptick in terms of acknowledging that there is a need for a DV-specific tool and response when you’re looking at risk factors. Looking at meaningfully assessing the needs of the survivor and getting the survivor input in these types of cases, and how to do that in a collaborative way with the various partners in the community, and who needs to be at the table when you’re thinking about choosing or implementing a tool. And there’s a lot of consideration, I think, from courts, specifically, a real understanding about the limited resources already high demands placed on various partners, such as law enforcement or probation, victim services advocates. And so, really, what is a way that the court can play a meaningful leadership role when they need to around collaborating and coordinating and getting the most appropriate information at various intervals in the case?  

So there is a lot of recognition around the fact that the risk is not static, it’s very dynamic and what does that look like?  And what does sharing information and communication look like and what’s the appropriate role of the court?

Sarah Henry: I want to turn now to our other three guest speakers for today’s podcast to provide examples on how they are using risk assessments in their jurisdictions. Can any one of you describe how you’ve been using an intimate partner violence risk assessment or bench guide in your court? Judge Million, I’ll turn to you first.

Judge Million: Thank you. Yes, in Arizona, we use the APRAIS, which is the Arizona Intimate Partner Risk Assessment Instrument System, and that is a risk assessment that’s conducted by police officers in the field at the time of the incident. And it is then forwarded to the court, defense, and the state, and also to our victim services agency. So that risk assessment is available to all of us at the first hearing when we’re making decisions on release and conditions of release in criminal cases. 

Sarah Henry: Sheila, how about you?

Sheila Schwanekamp, Esq.: Yes. In New York State, there is the New York State Family Court Judge’s Guide to Risk and Lethality in Domestic Violence Cases, and also the New York State Matrimonial Judges Risk Guide in Domestic Violence Cases.  We actually developed this guide in Erie County, New York, which is where I was practicing in 2014. We came back from a training, after hearing about risk and lethality factors, looking to see how we would be able to organize this information in a way that is appropriate for the court. We do not do scoring in ours, but we basically have it as a guide that contains both lethality and recidivism factors that are pulled from the evidence-based research listing the factors and what judges should be looking for, and then put it in the legal context of how judges can possibly respond in civil cases.

So we’re using it in family court, we’re using it in matrimonial courts. And we’re using it primarily, we started with our pilot for ex parte proceedings where the domestic violence petitioners are coming into court seeking a family offense order of protection, the civil order of protection. And they are there before the judge alone, by themselves, where the judge can speak to them directly to clarify any information that may not be in the petition at that time, or to expand on information that may be there. 

Sarah Henry: Judge Million, Sheila has had a chance to talk a little bit about the history behind the implementation of the tool that she was referencing. I’m wondering if you could discuss how you all came to the decision about the APRAIS.

Judge Million: Actually, because the APRAIS was developed in Arizona, it was kind of a simple decision. A group of stakeholders petitioned the Supreme Court to approve the format. And so, now, we have it built into our rules of criminal procedure. I think we consider all the risk assessments anyway in a criminal case, but it makes it nice that it says that this is approved by the Supreme Court.

Implementation wise, it was interesting. People went full ahead, and we didn’t really see all of the challenges. When everybody was trained on it at once, all of the law enforcement agencies in the county were trained on it, and a big part of APRAIS is that it’s supposed to connect the victims to services at the scene. And our victim services agency was overwhelmed by the amount of referrals they were getting.

And so, in the long run, it’s turned out to be a good process and we’ve been able to utilize it in a lot of ways, but overwhelming at the beginning. And so, when we talk about it now, I always tell jurisdictions it’s best to start slow and kind of roll this out until you see what kind of impacts this will have on your whole system.

Sarah Henry: Would each of you be able to discuss the partners that were at the table during your implementation and decision making processes?

Sheila Schwanekamp, Esq.: Yes, as I said, we came back from training on risk and lethality factors, and we determined that there really was not a tool for judges. So how could we do this and bring together the information to provide guidance to judges on risk and lethality?

So, in Erie County, New York, we sat down with a group of judges. We brought in members of court administration and court staff.  We brought in domestic violence consultants from the Center for Justice Innovation and the Battered Women’s Justice Project. We brought our local victim advocates together. We had civil legal attorneys and attorneys for children in our planning group. And with this diverse group of judicial and non-judicial personnel, we developed the Domestic Violence Risk Guide for Judges and piloted the risk guide in Erie County.

Sarah Henry: Judge Million, was your experience similar? 

Judge Million: It was more narrow, I think, because it was just directed towards the criminal bench and criminal cases. So we worked with the county attorney, the city prosecutors, the various law enforcement agencies. There was a lot of training, including of our defense attorneys and all the attorneys. Victim services was at the table and they were the biggest partner, the most important partner to make sure that we were implementing this in a way that was safe.

Sarah Henry: In some instances, judges aren’t actually using a risk assessment, but risk information is considered within the Court. I’m wondering, Judge Greenough, if you can describe how this has been working in your court? 

Judge Greenough: Yes. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, our judiciary does not have a formal risk assessment in use, although we are evaluating that. Starting in 2014, by State statute, law enforcement is required to administer the lethality assessment protocol on all intimate partner violence calls for service. That lethality assessment protocol, it’s provided with the police report to our district attorney’s office, and they consider that assessment in their charging decisions and certainly at any bond settings, particularly the first one. 

The second way that it comes into our court indirectly is through our family justice center, which, here, is called the Family Safety Center. They administer the full Jackie Campbell assessment to every client that comes through their doors. And so, certainly, they’re using that information for safety planning and evaluating what the needs may be for that client in obtaining a protective order and what needs to be included in the application for that protective order. 

But one of the more direct ways that we consider risk information here, without a formal risk assessment tool, we were trained early on to look at certain well known factors, and we consider those regularly. And for those that I consider to be a high-risk offender or a high lethality case, the factors would include: any allegation or plea of guilt involving strangulation; any case involving firearms or access to firearms; any case involving threats to kill anyone, including the perpetrator’s threat to kill themselves; assault and battery on a pregnant woman; any domestic case involving an allegation of animal cruelty; and certainly where we see any long pattern of either intimate partner violence cases being filed, whether or not they are ultimately dismissed, and/or any long pattern of protective orders involving the same perpetrator.  

And I consider all of the risk factors when we are calendaring compliance reviews. Here in Tulsa, any high-risk, high-lethality case is put on our afternoon compliance docket for a couple of reasons. One, we want to be able to keep these risk factors top of mind when we are seeing this particular population. That way, we are always thinking about those things throughout the compliance process.  

The other way that we evaluate risk information informally is when we’re evaluating any survivor’s request for modification of a criminal no-contact order.

Obviously, the risk factors come into play in that analysis because we may want to take it at a different pace in terms of modification. We may want to make sure that there certainly aren’t any new criminal charges or protective orders or any indications that weapons continue to be accessible to a convicted felon, and doing what we can to make sure that any no contact order is modified with survivor safety of the utmost importance.

Third, we use risk information in evaluating any recurring non-compliance of a defendant and how many opportunities that particular defendant may be given to get into compliance. For example, if we have a high-lethality, high-risk case and it is, even among those cases, noteworthy, we may decide that that particular defendant may not get three chances to regain compliance if they fall out of compliance. Oftentimes, we do give two or three opportunities for a defendant to get into compliance when there’s been some event that has caused them to be terminated from their batterer’s intervention classes, whether it’s job loss, homelessness, perhaps an addiction relapse, and we’re seeing honest, good faith efforts from that particular defendant to try and comply.  So these are things that we certainly take into account in evaluating how many opportunities any given defendant will have. 

On a positive note, the risk information that I’ve outlined, those pieces of information can really highlight the positive changes that we see, because you can see how far any particular defendant has come from the onset of the case, from case filing, and we see what the allegations are. We’re evaluating the risk to the survivor and we know what the high-risk, high-lethality cases are. When you see progress being made by a defendant and we see good outcomes, it really calls into stark relief where that defendant started and where they have finished up.

Sarah Henry: Changing gears a little bit, what have been some of the benefits and challenges in using IPV risk assessments in your court, Judge Million? 

Judge Million: So, I think the benefits of using such a system is that it really allows us a glimpse into the relationship. Oftentimes, the case that gets people into court does not reflect whether or not this is a domestic violence relationship. And so, when I see a high risk assessment, sometimes that can change the way I make decisions as far as having a defendant alcohol test or turn in firearms, conditions that I might not impose just based on the facts in the instant case.

Challenges, I think that you have to make sure that everyone is educated that this is only one factor. And so you don’t want to over-detain people just based on this risk assessment. So, to me, there’s that balancing act. And if the judges aren’t educated, they tend to swing one way or the other.  So I think that’s a big challenge.

I also think it’s a challenge to make sure that everyone is aware of how you present this risk assessment in court, what you talk about, what you don’t talk about, so that you’re not putting the survivors in potentially more danger.

Sarah Henry: Sheila, any benefits for New York State?

Sheila Schwanekamp, Esq.: Yes. When we came together to put a guide for our family and matrimonial courts, we were looking at very, very busy courts. The reality for the court is like a mouse in a maze. Civil court judges, we’re trying to figure out what’s needed with a very heavy caseload and litigants who aren’t as familiar with the process, and what information they need to provide to the court. We’re trying to figure out, what am I missing and how can we take the time to assess risk with those very, very busy dockets? And how do we engage the petitioner, the victim, to get more information?

So we found that the benefits, really, were to help judges organize proceedings for requests for civil orders of protection. With this very busy calendar, putting together this risk guide really helped the judge be able to focus on what those risk and lethality factors are, help them to have some guidance as to what questions to ask, not to restrict them to this. We have it as a guide. It’s not a checklist. But it’s something that helps the judge organize. And, then, also some suggested responses so that the information that the judge is hearing can be responsive to what is going on for that particular litigant. 

Making sure that you’re not missing something that’s very, very important to be able to put into a protective order for a litigant who is coming before you. Overall, getting more information upfront in a case so that, in doing that, you’re getting the cases that are resolving more quickly upfront, and fewer trials in the long run. So that really has been a benefit for us going forward.

One of the challenges is that we had hoped to expand and create a criminal court guide, and we found that, due to some of the restrictions on information and the requirements of disclosure in criminal cases, this guide, in and of itself, didn’t fall within that parameter. The judge is still looking for information, but the judge is not going to be the one asking those questions. So what we’ve done is, these criminal court judges do have the risk guide available to them to make sure that they have a listing of what those risk factors are, but expecting that information to come from the prosecutor.

Sarah Henry: For Tucson and Erie County courts, formal risk assessments are being used. What measures have been put in place to ensure that they are being implemented to fidelity?

Judge Million: Because our risk assessments are administered by police officers, there is always that fear, with turnover and with it becoming a habit, that people will forget the protocols. APRAIS is really implemented in the police departments by the Family Justice Center at ASU and they train the police officers to develop a relationship with the survivors, which I think is really important, because then we’re talking about having more trust in the system from the very beginning.

The most important thing is telling the victim that this is a choice, that their answers are not going to be confidential, they’ll be shared with the defense, possibly the defendant and the judge. So that is a worry, that they are not doing it in a way that is validated, (1), and (2) in a way that is making the survivors safe and having them understand what they’re answering and what the outcomes could be.

So we have quarterly meetings to make sure that all of the law enforcement agencies are there, the courts are there. So it’s a continuing process to make sure that these risk assessments are being conducted in a thoughtful way and that they’re being done. 

Sheila Shwanekamp, Esq.: So what the New York State Office of Court Administration, OCA, has done is distributed the guides in the family and matrimonial cases to the judges and court officers who preside over the cases. They’re also distributed through the statewide supervising judges.

In addition to that, the New York State Judicial Institute offers ongoing training to the matrimonial and family court judges and court officers who are hearing these cases on not only how to use the judicial guides, but really background training on domestic violence dynamics, including what are the risk and lethality factors, education on that evidence-based research; defining context, making sure that the judges understand context.  

Then, there’s a demonstration of the use of the guide that’s been recorded by the Judicial Institute. We just did a training for new judges in New York State and we reviewed the guide.  And the dean of the New York State Judicial Institute has made it a priority that there is training on the risk guides in addition to domestic violence training for not only new judges, but judges in the family courts and in the matrimonial courts.  

What we found is that, after that initial appearance, there’s still a basis for the use of the risk guide. But again, as I noted with the criminal judges, the judge is not going to be asking those questions in the presence of both parties being present.  We’re fortunate in New York State that, in most cases, there is an attorney representing litigants, so the judge is expecting this information at every appearance to come forward if there are risks that need to be identified through the court, either through an order to show cause or for the court to ask that question, is there anything new to report?  Has there been new criminal charges filed? Has there been violations of court orders?

As a result, we wanted to be sure that the attorneys were on the same page and had that same evidence-based research on risk and lethality.  So, very recently, we have come up with the New York State’s Civil Attorney Guide to Risk and Lethality.  And we did a training in Erie County to present this risk guide to the attorneys and to give them the similar training on dynamics of domestic violence, risk and lethality factors, what is context, and how important it is for them to make sure that they assess risk on an ongoing basis, because we know risk can change throughout the proceedings.  So we’re doing that in conjunction with the judicial guides to make sure that information continues to be forthcoming to the court.

Sarah Henry: Judge Million, I want to circle back around to you and ask you if there has been any ongoing training or case reviews in cases where you utilized APRAIS.

Judge Million:  Yes.  So I train our judges and attorneys on APRAIS on a regular basis. Also, our detectives with our police department have just recently retrained everyone in the police department on the importance of following the protocols and using the risk assessments.  

I worry that if some people are doing APRAIS and some people aren’t, then you’ve got offenders who are not being treated equally either.  To me, it’s a question of due process, too.  It also provides a lot of good information about maybe what the offenders need at this time.  

And so I think that’s an important part when you have a risk assessment that you’re using in your system, to make sure that it’s being done across the board so that we’re not picking and choosing who gets these high-risk assessments and whether they’re going to be treated differently. 

Sarah Henry: What advice do you have for other courts that are thinking of using an IPV risk assessment or considering IPV risk assessment information in their cases?

Sheila Schwanekamp, Esq.: So I would definitely suggest bringing together a diverse group, as we discussed, not only experts who work in the area of domestic violence, but bringing in local advocates to make sure that you’re getting the voice of domestic violence survivors. And also, making sure that you have a risk guide that is going to be helpful to the court and not create more work. Making something that helps streamline the process makes it more substantial in terms of the information that’s before the judge, but helps the judge move these cases forward, because judges everywhere have very, very busy calendars.  They don’t want to miss anything, but they want to be sure that they’re responding appropriately to the information that they’re hearing for the interventions to be helpful to the litigants who are seeking assistance from the court. It’s really important to keep up to date on the evidence-based research, on the risk factors.  Because we did our initial risk guide in 2014-2015 and we just recently updated it to make sure that we had more updated information, not only from the risk factors, but when we were including the statutes that could possibly be applied, we updated that, as well.  

Danielle Pugh: I just wanted to lean into what Sheila was saying. One of the things that we find is that communities often want to rush into choosing a specific tool, and it will help a community if they just take a little bit of time to ask the why and how they’re going to implement this tool, given the realities of communities and the resources and the time that it takes, and the amount of collaboration and trust that is needed among partners in this initiative. It reminds me of one time we had this exercise. We asked the teams, that included a judge, to go back and spend some time as a team to list through all of the assessment tools that are used in cases involving domestic violence in your community.  And it was such an eye opening experience. They started talking about, “Oh, I didn’t know that probation was using this, or I didn’t know that DOC, Department of Corrections, was using this tool and how it was being used.” And we really just wanted to take that opportunity to say, aha, like there’s so much going on already in your community, and having that time to just sit back and go, “Where’s our starting point and what are we missing with the processes we already have in place?”

Sarah Henry: Judge Million or Judge Greenough, any advice that you have for other judges or courts that are thinking about using an IPV risk assessment? 

Judge Million: I think Danielle has a really excellent point.  For us, having the independent victim services agency at the table from the beginning was really important, because the focus for using the APRAIS in our county was twofold: using it to connect the victims to services; and then using it in the courts.  And so I think you really do need to know: “What are we accomplishing with this and how are we going to accomplish it?”

When we implemented it, it was a good several months. I think it’s something that you have to do slow, do it as a pilot project, make sure that everybody in the system has that training to understand how to use the information that’s being provided and how not to use that information.  So, to me, that would be the main thing is slow, with lots of training.  And don’t leave the victim services agencies out of this process. 

Judge Greenough: As I always say, don’t be afraid to start where you are and use what you have.  Any new process or project can be daunting to think about.  And there will be road bumps and hurdles and challenges to overcome.  But don’t be afraid to start where you are and use what you already have in handling your intimate partner violence cases.  

For example, even when you’re evaluating a formal risk assessment tool, there is no reason that you can’t already start thinking about the risk factors that are logical and well known, such as:  strangulation; access to weapons or weapons used; threats to kill anyone, including the perpetrator’s threats to kill themselves; assault and battery on a pregnant woman; animal cruelty; any long pattern of protective orders or intimate partner violence cases.  There is no reason that you can’t already think about these things, because you’re going to see them in the criminal charges, you’re going to see them in the factual allegations, you’re going to see them in the plea paperwork. And there’s no reason that judges can’t think about those things, even without a formal risk assessment tool in place. 

I would also encourage any court or jurisdiction who is considering a formal risk assessment tool or, or a bench guide, or the use of informal risk information; talk to other jurisdictions who’ve successfully implemented those in their courts. You can talk to them about which tool they decided to use, why they chose that one, when they use it, how did they navigate and address challenges in their community, and what they think about how it’s working compared to what they hoped it would achieve, so that you can learn from their processes, their successes, their challenges, when you start thinking about your own next steps.

Sarah Henry: I want to go ahead and move us toward our final question today, which is, how can judges ensure that they are using IPV risk assessments and bench guides in a way that is trauma informed and takes into consideration the needs of the survivor and the person who caused harm?

Danielle Pugh: I think it’s really important, when you’re thinking about trauma-informed responses and what that means for a judge or the court, is to really look at those risk factors and look at the person before you, and how are you going to fashion a response to that immediate need, appropriately from the bench.  

So, for example, I think of this judge in Georgia who has a large Black population community in her city.  And, unemployment is a risk factor, but it is also a limitation of the tool, given how it was normed.  And so, she looked at, okay, I can’t just be throwing people in jail and using the tool as a reason to do that.  And so she worked with her community partners and said, okay this is our response.  We’re going to not use this as a penalty, but say we’re going to help you find employment.  And that is going to be a condition here in my court.  So every time you come back to the compliance hearing, you’re going to be actively looking for employment. 

And some of the lives that she’s turned around, because they were able to find employment, they were able to comply with the conditions, is an example of how you can be trauma-informed while looking at risk and trying to enhance victim safety. 

Judge Million: I think that we have to balance them, a lot of times, with victim autonomy.  Just because you have a really high risk assessment does not mean that you should be disregarding what the victim in front of you is telling you and what would make them safe.  So I think that goes to things like unemployment, you know.  What makes them safe, in a lot of ways, would be having that offender out so that they don’t lose their housing, so they have someone to watch their children, they don’t lose their jobs, so that the offender doesn’t lose his job.  So I look at that in the context of these factors.  What are they telling me, so that I can craft a good way to release this person or put them on probation? 

Sometimes that means releasing them, putting them on GPS, or releasing them with alcohol testing.  So I’m still thinking about survivor safety, but I’m also not putting everybody at harm by just holding someone in custody based on this one piece of the puzzle that I’m given, this risk assessment. 

Sheila Shwanekamp, Esq.: I agree with what Judge Million is saying and, really, we have to recognize that each case is individual, and even though we may have a guide, it’s only a guide.  It’s to give you a way to organize your information, but to really listen to what you’re hearing at that ex parte proceeding from a domestic violence survivor’s standpoint.  

Also to recognize this may be their first interaction with the court.  They may or may not be comfortable with releasing a lot of information to the court at this particular time.  And really understanding that it’s probably safer for a domestic violence survivor, especially at subsequent proceedings, to be able to meet with an attorney or a victim advocate, or both, individually outside of the presence of the courtroom, where they can safely discuss what these risk factors are. 

Sarah Henry: Judge Greenough?

Judge Greenhough:  I think, for most of us, we are learning to be more trauma informed in all aspects of our work and, certainly, intimate partner violence cases are no exception.  Judges need to think about both the criminogenic and non-criminogenic needs that their defendant population has, because it will impact compliance.  

If you have non-criminogenic needs, perhaps you’ve got a significant portion of your defendant population that’s struggling with substance abuse or mental health or homelessness.  Absolutely, those are going to impact compliance with court orders.  So being mindful of those things can help you better address any particular defendant and their needs.  To overlook those things, it’s just not going to get you very far with that defendant.  If you do not understand the fact that they don’t know where their next meal is coming from, they do not have a roof over their head.  And perhaps here, in Oklahoma, it could be 105 degrees or it could be -5 degrees.  And, so, they are in a life-threatening situation at times.  And when they make the effort to come to court, even when things in their life are not going well, that needs to be acknowledged.  And you need to try to do whatever you can to work with that defendant to encourage them to get into compliance.  

For the survivor, it’s important to always think about their safety and autonomy and keep that in mind when you are planning your court compliance environment.  So when we’re setting up our dockets, how the room looks, who’s in the room, how do we keep them separated, how do we safely let everyone leave after a compliance docket?  Those are important things to keep in mind.

Thinking about your processes, whether it’s evaluating a survivor’s request for modification of a no contact order, making sure that they have a private space to meet with an advocate and making sure that that’s a part of your process.

And certainly keeping risk information top of mind in your decision making at every turn, when you’re handling a case either on the front end, before disposition, or whether you’re handling the back side of it, on the compliance side.

Sarah Henry: I want to thank you for joining us today for this podcast.  And I want to thank our speakers, Danielle Pugh, Sheila Schwanekamp, Wendy Million, and Kelly Greenough, for being able to take a deeper dive into the court’s implementation and use of risk assessment tools and strategies.  

If you’re interested in technical assistance for judges or more information on the Domestic Violence Resource for [Increasing] Safety and Connection, I invite you to visit the Center for Justice Innovation website,, or the DV RISC website,

I’ve really enjoyed hosting you today and I hope you join us for our next podcast


Content types:


Risk Assessment Models:

Professional Groups: