HANFORD — As Kings County fights against issues like child and spousal abuse and human trafficking, the District Attorney’s Office is looking for a new facility to bring all the needed services under one roof in one, cohesive package.
According to Phil Esbenshade, managing deputy district attorney for Kings County, their office has much of what crime victims and their families need, but there are still great improvements that could be made in terms of delivery and centralization of services. As it is, their services and case resources are scattered around the Kings County Government Center in several places, while services like shelter have to be provided elsewhere.
On top of this, victim resources are frequently off-campus. This includes their office having to send rape victims to Visalia. Going place to place will also mean the higher likelihood for victims having to relive their experience to other advocates, an exhausting process that can hamper healing and trigger possible post-traumatic stress disorder.
For an example of their predicament, Esbenshade pointed to situation sex trafficking victims often find themselves in.
“The victims are isolated from their family, they’re isolated from the world, the trafficker takes their ID, then they have nothing,” Esbenshade said. “So they need an ID, they need a place to live, they need shelter, they need all these services and they may come and meet us once, but then we send them somewhere else and they just get tired of being revictimized and telling their story.”
Their goal is to obtain funding for a Family Justice Center — a “one stop shop that would consist of multidisciplinary interview centers, prosecutors, victim advocates, counseling resources, legal aid and case management.
District Attorney Keith Fagundes added that services aren’t exclusively for victims, but also for defendants, providing needed behavioral and mental health services that could be instrumental in discontinuing a cycle of crime and punishment.
”Too many families come to us with kids with mental health (issues) and drug addiction we’re at the end — we don’t know what else to do,” Fagundes said. “The only tools we have is to file charges on them and get them in the system — which doesn’t always help the situation.”
Right now, Fagundes and his team are working with the Kings County community and elected officials to secure funding, but says the current tours have been helpful in showcasing the needs for the new Family Justice Center, with people having to wander the existing campus just to find the right offices.
“The lightbulb goes off real quick,” Fagundes said. “When they first approach and can’t find our building, let alone get services from it.”
The building is estimated to cost $35 million and would be 60-75,000 square feet in size, being located across the street from the court house.