Ruiz, Scutari Bill to Establish Family Justice Centers Passes Senate

Trenton – Legislation sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Senator M. Teresa Ruiz and Senator Nicholas Scutari, which would permit counties and non-governmental, community-based agencies, to establish family justice centers, passed the Senate today.

“When survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault need help, they are forced to go from one agency to the next to handle different types of issues,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “Whether it is legal assistance or health care support, having one dedicated place to receive these services removes barriers to better meet the diverse needs of survivors and their families. By creating these family justice centers, survivors and their family members will be able to obtain the resources and support they need in an efficient and effective manner.”

The bill, S-1318, would establish family justice centers to provide coordinated, multi-agency governmental and non-governmental assistance to victims of certain crimes and offenses, as well as their family members.

“There needs to be an easier way for victims of abuse to access services when they need them the most,” said Senator Scutari (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union). “It is often an inconvenient and time-consuming process, which forces many to not seek help at all. This bill would ensure that survivors have access to a myriad of services all in one place, instead of having to go through multiple providers.”

The crimes and offenses for which victims and their family members could request and access assistance, including legal, law enforcement, social services, and health care would include: domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and elder abuse or abuse of a disabled adult.

The availability of services at a family justice center would not be made conditional on a victim’s or family member’s willingness to cooperate with law enforcement authorities or participate in the criminal justice system. Services would not be denied solely on the basis of any victim’s or family member’s criminal history or immigration status.

A family justice center would operate under a director who would have expertise in victim advocacy based upon education, training, or experience. The director of the family justice center would consult, and develop policies and procedures in collaboration with non – governmental organizations involved in victim advocacy and services, as well as former victims of the crimes listed above.

This bill is based on a model created by Alliance for HOPE International (Alliance) for co-located multi-disciplinary service delivery for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors and their children.  The model reflects a national movement toward “one stop shop,” co-located, multi-disciplinary service centers, which has been recognized as a best practice model by the US Department of Justice.

Essex County Family Justice Center, the first Family Justice Center in New Jersey, was established in 2010 in direct response to a spike in domestic violence homicides in Essex County. Currently, the center partners with 20 government and community-based agencies to provide coordinated and comprehensive care to victims of domestic violence. Since opening in 2010, the center has provided services to 8,496 domestic violence victims who have made 21,121 individual visits to the center.

Additionally, Morris County established a Family Justice Center in 2016 and Union and Morris County opened Family Justice/Multi-Agency Centers in 2017. There are currently more than 90 operational centers and over 100 developing centers in the United States and abroad.

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 35-1.