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Title:“They don’t help you here” a relational ethnography of domestic violence court
Author(s):Lee, Meggan J
Director of Research:Marshall, Anna-Maria
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Marshall, Anna-Maria
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Leicht, Kevin; Mendenhall, Ruby; Lleras, Christy
Department / Program:Sociology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Specialty Courts
Problem-Solving Courts
Domestic Violence Court
Criminal Legal System
Criminal Justice Reform
Toxic Maternalism
Race and Racism
Abstract:Domestic violence courts are an important subset of specialty courts or problem-solving courts offering a victim-centered alternative to the traditional criminal court setting. Domestic violence courts attempt to bring together the combined expertise of court actors (judges, lawyers, advocates, and social workers) to provide more enduring and less stigmatizing solutions to domestic violence problems. Although these and other specialty courts are generally viewed by policy makers as positive approaches that reduce incarceration and prevent recidivism, there is little scholarship on how these courts function as appendages to the punishment-based criminal justice system. Using relational ethnographic methods, this study analyzed data from participant and non-participant observations at the Cook County Domestic Violence Court, and key informant interviews with judges, attorneys, court staff, and members of the Chicago Police Department to examine the relationship between domestic violence courts and the larger institutional environment defined by the traditional criminal court system. Three major findings are presented in this dissertation. First, analysis demonstrates that the ways in which alleged victims of domestic violence are funneled into and through the court have implications for how difficult it is to access and obtain protections from the court. Notably, police discretion shapes whether reported domestic violence is considered a criminal or civil matter. Further, the absence of the courtroom workgroup in the domestic violence court, as compared to its presence in traditional court settings, can make the process harder for those utilizing the court as well as the lawyers who work there. Second, findings advance the novel concept of “toxic maternalism” as a key feature of judge interactions with both victims and defendants in the court, such that, in a court primarily staffed by white women, female judges engage in harmful maternalistic behaviors during court interactions. Third, rhetorical racialized and gendered stereotypes and tropes are used against victims, who are predominantly Black women from poor neighborhoods, by court actors which constrains Black women’s access to justice when they experience domestic violence. These findings make a significant contribution to the specialty courts literature, with particular implications for nuanced understandings of the function of reformist approaches to addressing inequalities in the criminal justice system at the court level.
Issue Date:2021-07-13
Rights Information:Copyright 2021 Meggan Lee
Date Available in IDEALS:2022-01-12
Date Deposited:2021-08

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