Too often, justice for Connecticut’s domestic violence victims depends on how much money they have. That’s unfair and unsafe. And, thanks to a new pilot project, it’s also starting to change.

Starting July 1, Connecticut Legal Services (CLS) will partner with the Judicial Branch and others in an exciting advocacy effort that could be a first step to equal justice for all of Connecticut’s victims of domestic violence.

The project funds fellowships at CLS to hire two lawyers who will advocate for every low-income domestic violence victim who seeks a restraining order in Waterbury. In 2017, Waterbury courts received 604 requests for domestic violence restraining orders. The funding was awarded by Connecticut’s Judicial Branch, which issued a competitive Request for Proposals for the project this spring.

“Safety from domestic violence is a right for everyone, not a privilege reserved for the wealthy,” noted CLS Executive Director Deborah Witkin. “But right now, low-income people who can’t afford lawyers are less likely to get restraining orders to protect them from abuse. This pilot project will change that in Waterbury, by ensuring that every victim can get legal help.”

The pilot project grew out of the 2016 recommendations of Governor Malloy’s “Task Force to Improve Access to Legal Counsel in Civil Matters,” which suggested that Connecticut establish a right to free legal help for domestic violence victims who seek restraining orders.

The U.S. and state constitutions say that every low-income person facing potential jail time is entitled to a state-funded lawyer. But low-income people in Connecticut and across the country routinely go without lawyers in civil proceedings that carry life-changing consequences.

Attorney Witkin added: “Access to legal help is going to change lives for some of Waterbury’s most vulnerable people. It can be the difference between safety and danger. This is a wonderful first step. But we need to keep making progress. Legal help can also┬ábe the difference between housing and homelessness. For immigrants, it can be the difference between staying in this country and getting sent to face unimaginable oppression. It’s time for Connecticut to go all in for equal justice.”