In tiny Scott County, Tenn., with its population of 22,000, exists a domestic violence intervention task force that will serve as a model for the rest of the nation.
The Scott County Coordinated Community Response (CCR) team has been selected by the Rural Justice Collaborative Advisory Council as one of nine Rural Innovation sites, meaning it will serve as a model for other communities across the nation.
Selected along with the Scott County CCR were the Reaching Rural initiatives of South Carolina, the Lazarus Recovery Services of North Carolina, the Center for Empowering Victims of Gender-Based Violence in Kansas, the Rural Attorney Recruitment Program in South Dakota, the Rural Incubator Project for Lawyers in Montana, the Texas Dispute Resolution System, the Public Defender Corporation Recovery Coach Project in West Virginia, and the Family Accountability and Recovery Court in North Carolina.
Together, these nine programs will serve as models for other communities that are implementing their own rural justice programs. The RJC initiative will provide resources that will allow other communities to replicate the successes that have been seen in Scott County and the other communities that have been chosen.
“Rural community leaders often don’t have the resources to develop programs from scratch, but we know that many rural justice leaders, like those from the Scott County Coordinated Community Response, have found innovated solutions to their complex problems,” said Tara Kunkel, executive director of Rulo Strategies. “Before this, there has been no nationally concerted effort for justice leaders and their collaborators in other sectors to share what they know. The innovation sites provide a framework that others can learn from.”
What is the CCR
The Scott County Coordinated Community Response dates back to 2015, when General Sessions Judge James L. (Jamie) Cotton Jr. and other local leaders formed a team to begin conversations regarding the needs of victims of domestic violence. It was from those early meetings that the Scott County Family Justice Center took shape.
The first meeting was held in June 2015, with 15 people representing eight different entities. In December of that year, Scott County received a grant from the Office of Criminal Justice Programs (OCJP) to develop and implement a pilot program that would include the hiring of a domestic violence officer.
“This team collaborated to identify gaps in the system and worked together to make the system more effective and establish a way to better equip and empower victims of abuse,” said Christy Harness, who serves as executive director of the Scott County Family Justice Center that would come later. “They knew that victims needed a system that understood their unique situations.”
Today, the Scott County CCR has grown to include 34 members representing a wide range of organizations and agencies. Represented on the CCR are the District Attorney’s Office, the Children’s Center of the Cumberlands, Intervention Academy, Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands, the Morgan-Scott Project, Mountain People’s Health Councils, Oneida Police Department, Scott Appalachian Industries, the Scott County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, the Scott County Family Justice Center, Scott County Judicial Services, Scott County Juvenile Court Services, the Scott County Mayor’s Office, the Scott County Shelter Society, the State of Tennessee Adult Protective Services and the TNCSA Probation Office.
“When looking at the success of the Scott County CCR team, the growth of team members and the community programs, since its inception, speaks volumes,” Harness said. “These addditions have allowed for an increase in victim safety, offender accountability, easier access to victim services and legal representation, and the elimination of barriers to the judicial system.”
The CCR team meets monthly. Traininggs have enhanced collaboration between the various service providers, which Harness said has not only established a supportive community structure but has also built a better response to victims of abuse.
Leading by example
“It is an honor and pleasure to be a part of the Scott County Community Response Team that works tirelessly and diligently to serve the citizens of rural Scott County,” said Scarlett Ellis, Scott County’s judicial magistrate and the chairperson of the CCR. “For Scott County to have been selected on this national level for their collaborative work with partners and service providers exemplifies the local commitment to our community and showcases the benefits of serving our community with a high level of competence and strength as provided in metropolitan areas.”
Ellis said that Scott County’s domestic violence partners and service providers should be commended for their leadership and their efforts to eliminate barriers of access to justice for victims.
“I am beyond proud to live in rural Scott County, Tennessee,” Ellis said. “There truly is no place like home.”
Over the next three years, the RJC will work with Scott County CCR to create educational materials that will be featured in an online resource center. With funding from SJI, the program will also allow leaders from other communities to visit, as well as the opportunities to participate in regional conferences.
“The RJC will provide a vast knowledge pool filled with actionable content which individual communities may not have had the resources to compile on their own,” said Kristina Bryant, of the National Center for State Courts, who helps coordinate the RJC.
Understanding the players
The Rural Justice Collaborative showcases the strengths of rural communities and highlights the cross-sector collaboration that is a hallmark of rural justice systems.
The National Center for State Courts is headquartered in Williamsburg, Va. and is a non-profit court organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice by providing leadership and service to state courts. It was founded in 1971.
Rulo Strategies is a woman-owned business focused on supporting and evaluating initiatives designed to foster collaboration between diverse stakeholders with distinct but complementary missions. Rulo Strategies organized the RJC through a partnership with the NCSC.
The State Justice Institute was established by federal law in 1984 to award grants that improve the quality of justice in state courts. It is governed by an 11-member board of directors that are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
“This award is a well-deserved recognition for the Scott County Community Coordinated Response team,” 8th Judicial District Attorney General Jared Effler said of the Scott County CCR’s selection as one of nine Rural Innovation sites. “The work done by the CCR team improves the lives of crime victims on a daily basis and it is extremely gratifying to see this work recognized on the national stage.”