Salt Lake City, Utah (August 8, 2015) National non-partisan think tank “The Institute for Policy Integrity” has found an easy solution to prevent domestic violence: give people free lawyers, the Huffington Post notes in an article published on July 21st.
Domestic violence is an issue estimated to affect 1 in 4 women in the U.S. during their lifetime, incurring not only physical and mental harm but also high legal fees and severe social costs that affect the individual, their family and their community, the think tank found. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, when accounted for these multifactorial costs, the price of domestic violence total around an estimated $9 billion, including $727.8 million in lost productivity each year.
Alarmingly, domestic violence in Utah is much worse than the national average, with one in three women believed to experience domestic violence at some point in their lives (Standard Examiner, June 25, 2015). Domestic violence-related homicide in Utah is among the highest in the nation (43% of all homicides are domestic in nature, topping the 30% national average). And it’s getting worse. According to Julee Smith, the executive director at Your Community Connection, last year’s homicide number was up 59 percent; the number of victims who are housed in private shelters shot up by 41% in the past five years, according to Jenn Oxborrow, Utah Department of Human Services domestic violence program administrator. Even in 2001, the rate of domestic violence in Utah was 23% higher than the national average.
So what is the best way to save lives, save families and children from traumatic abuse, and save the state money? Free or subsidized lawyers, according to “The Institute for Policy Integrity” and their national study “Supporting Survivors: The Economic Benefits of Providing Civil Legal Aid to Survivors of Domestic Violence.”
“Studies have shown that the availability of civil legal aid can be effective in reducing rates of violence, and even more effective than alternative interventions such as the provision of shelters or counseling services. Increased funding to enhance the availability of civil legal services to low-income families can lower the societal costs of domestic violence, generating substantial economic benefits,” the study purports.
“We have intuitively known this for decades and it’s heartening to see that studies confirm our belief that access to a free lawyer for victims of domestic violence truly does reduce domestic violence in our community, ” Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake Executive Director Stewart Ralphs says.
A founding member of the non-profit collaboration “AND JUSTICE FOR ALL” (AJFA), the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake has consistently found through an internal year-end survey of protective order clientele that 91% of their former clients who obtained protection orders reported no further abuse a year after the order. In parallel fashion, the prior-mentioned study found that when victims applied for a protective order with the help of an attorney, 83% were successful compared to only 32% when applying without an attorney. For Utahns especially, free legal aid has the potential to save more than just community time and money but many lives as well.
The Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake also found in their survey that of the 91% of individuals who reported no further abuse, 95% reported feeling safer, 69% reported that their household income had remained consistent or increased, and 79% reported the ability to better make decisions to manage their lives since obtaining protective orders with the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake’s help. During the 2014 year, the two nonprofits under the AJFA umbrella providing protective orders to victims of domestic violence (Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake and Utah Legal Services) helped 3,687 individuals and 9068 dependents escape abuse.
Aside from the positive impact that free legal representation stands to have on preventing domestic violence in our local communities and families, the financial implications are very promising for all those involved. “AND JUSTICE FOR ALL” commissioned the “Social Return on Investment Study” several years ago to evaluate the economic return of their organizations collaborative work efforts. It was determined that for every dollar donated to “AND JUSTICE FOR ALL” partners’ family law and domestic violence programs – provided by the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake and Utah Legal Services — there is a $9.08 return in community benefit, including savings in community health, law enforcement and emergency housing/shelter costs for victims of domestic violence. The collective work of the three organizations within AJFA is estimated to save the courts and the state of Utah’s taxpayers $1,834,936 every year.
About “AND JUSTICE FOR ALL”
“and Justice for all” is the resource-sharing umbrella organization for Utah’s primary civil legal aid agencies: Disability Law Center, Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake, and Utah Legal Services. It is the first project of its kind in the country to co-locate the major civil legal service providers in an effort to simplify access for clients and create efficiencies for service providers. By uniting together, the legal organizations housed within and Justice for all’s Community Legal Center save over half a million dollars annually.
Last year marks the organization’s 15th anniversary. Over the last 16 years, AJFA has helped 416,370 people regain stability in domestic issues, obtain protective orders in cases of domestic violence, access disability income and health care and satisfy their most basic needs through legal representation, advice and referrals. ‘and Justice for all’ received a four star rating by Charity Navigator for sound fiscal management and transparency, which only one-fourth of US charities received. Furthermore, a recently commissioned social return on investment study demonstrated that for every dollar invested in the three founding agencies of and Justice for all, there is a social return of $7.27 ($9.08 for family law programs). Additionally, the work of our three organizations saves the courts (and thus saves Utah tax payers) an estimated $1,834,936 every year.
Contact: Stewart Ralphs
Contact: Kseniya Kniazeva
Cell Phone: 801/688-3197