RITES Goes Local

We’re excited to announce a new collaborative venture on the Rhode Island Triage and Eviction Study (“RITES”) team. Five outstanding students at the Roger Williams University School of Law have joined the project to conduct summary eviction court observations and interview unrepresented tenant-defendants who are experiencing the eviction process themselves. These raw data, so to speak, will give everyone working on the project a better understanding of the current system and inform ongoing study design. For example, information about what tenants would have liked to know before their hearings will enhance the self-help materials designed for the evaluation.

In addition to this unique learning experience, their participation strengthens the project’s connections within the Providence community. These dedicated students—under the supervision of Professor Jonathan Gutoff; Director of the Feinstein Center for Pro Bono & Experiential Education, Laurie Bannon; and Director of Pro Bono & Community PartnershipsEliza Vorenberg—will bring important new perspectives and added capacity to the growing RITES field organization.

This partnership is an exciting one for us at the Lab. One of our core missions is to work with the next generation of legal practitioners and scholars and cultivate dedication to making the law an evidence-based profession. Having those future leaders actively participate in all phases of a Lab study is the most effective way for us to do just that.

We also prioritize having multiple partners work together on RCTs to maximize their impact. Having RWUSOL join us and the Rhode Island Center for Justice as we study the latter’s triage process for assigning representation in eviction cases will only improve our work. We all will benefit from each other’s perspectives, ideas, and insights into the understudied process of distributing scarce legal resources.

Stay tuned for more on this venture!

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Intimate Partner Violence

The Problem

Right now, in the United States, some victims of domestic and intimate partner violence (DV/IPV) do not obtain restraining orders against their abusers, not because their facts fail to meet applicable legal standards, but rather because legal services providers lack knowledge needed to allocate scarce resources well, i.e., to triage. Were such triage know-how available, more DV/IPV victims might obtain restraining orders, even without new resources.

What is triage?

Triage is scarcity-compelled choice. The military setting provides a useful guide. The Navy Hospital Corpsman Manual instructs field medical technicians facing emergencies with multiple civilians to divide human beings into three classes:

  • Priority I. Victims who “require immediate life sustaining action.”
  • Priority II. Victims with “injuries where treatment can be delayed for a short time.”
  • Priority III. Those who either “have minor injuries,” or those with “obviously mortal wounds where survival is not expected.”

When resources are too scarce to permit treatment to be given to all, the Manual’s instructions are clear: treat Priority I patients. When you cannot treat everyone, treat those who will live with treatment but die without it. Doing anything else may cost lives. Most critically, the Manual provides instruction on how to identify and separate these classes.

On a day-to-day basis, legal aid attorneys facing severe resource constraints should provide representation first to Priority I victims. Doing anything else may cost lives.

At current resource levels, every representation given to a victim in Priorities II or III (i.e., those for whom representation can make no difference vis-à-vis restraining orders) means that two other victims, perhaps two other Priority I victims, go unrepresented. Like Navy Corpsmen, legal aid attorneys may despise the necessity for triage, but they cannot escape it. Some triage mechanism is unavoidable.

But unlike Navy Corpsmen, legal aid attorneys have no manual to instruct them on how to identify those who will obtain restraining orders (no matter what) and those who will not obtain restraining orders (no matter what) from those who will obtain restraining orders only if legal aid attorneys represent them.

Why is there no such manual? Because no one knows what the manual would say. No one has ever researched how to triage well in the DV/IPV context, nor in any legal context, even though courts and attorneys make triage decisions daily.

The Study

The Intimate Partner Violence Triage Study will provide the first rigorous study of triage in the DV/IPV context. It will do so using a randomized control trial design in partnership with a legal aid organization in northeastern Ohio.

Self-help materials

A key element to this project involves creating self-help materials that are useful and accessible, and that convey the appropriate message to the audience. We have developed several sets of images to accompany the text for these materials.

Stick figure restraining order Reverse geometric figure restraining order Bears restraining orderPrint

Please help us by casting a vote for the image you think works best.

Field operation

After a thorough screening and intake process, a legal aid attorney will make a provisional triage decision assigning each eligible and consenting DV/IPV victim to one of its three service levels: (a) full attorney representation; (b) an instructional telephone call plus a self-help assistance packet; or (c) a self-help packet alone.

Eligible and consenting individuals are then randomized into one of two groups:

  1. Triage by an attorney: the person will receive the service that is decided by the attorney.
  2. Randomized triage: the decision made by the attorney will be ignored, and the person will be provided a randomized level of service as chosen by a computer.

Outcomes

The Research Team will follow each victim to discern whether she obtains a restraining order, and subsequently, whether she seeks refuge at a shelter (a strong indicator of revictimization). Depending on funding and the availability of records, the Research Team will also examine police records (to see whether a subsequent encounter is reported for the victim and her abuser) as well as Medicaid expenditures for each victim. By comparing these outcomes across the two treatment arms, the Intimate Partner Violence Triage Study will assess the effectiveness of the attorney-led triage process in DV/IPV cases.

Unlike many randomized trials, however, the Study will go beyond mere “treated” versus “control” comparisons and provide strong guidance to future service providers and researchers. Specifically, the presence of a fully randomized group (the second treatment arm) will allow the researchers to provide data-driven, rigorous evidence on the following questions critical to the legal scheme constructed to protect DV/IPV victims:

  • What background variables (observable at intake) predict whether a legal aid provider will offer higher as opposed to lower levels of service?
  • What background variables (observable at intake) predict whether a DV/IPV victim can obtain a restraining order on her own?
  • How much does legal representation increase the probability of obtaining a restraining order over a telephone call and/or a self-help assistance packet?
  • How effective is a restraining order in preventing revictimization, forestalling the need for subsequent police calls, and reducing state medical expenditures?

 

The Research Team

Marie Curry, Managing Attorney, Health, Education, Advocacy & Law Program, Community Legal Aid Services, Inc.

Jim Greiner, Faculty Director, The Access to Justice Lab; Professor of Law at Harvard Law School

Erika Rickard, Associate Director of Field Research, The Access to Justice Lab

David Yokum, U.S. Social & Behavioral Sciences Team