California: Addressing Effective Batterer Intervention Programs on Three Fronts

First Front-CSAC

In early 2017, Assembly Bill 372 was introduced in California to explore the use of alternative batterer intervention programming (BIPs).  Under current law, the court is required to order a 52-week BIP for persons who meet the sentencing mandates for specified domestic violence crimes (FC 6211/ PC 1203.097). The California State Association of Counties (CSAC) oversees the pilot project of six participating counties.  The counties are provided the flexibility to modify the 52-week requirement to a lesser time, based on a risk and needs assessment.  All counties chose the Ontario Domestic Abuse Risk Assessment (ODARA), but general risk assessments varied among the counties with four different tools used to measure general recidivism.

The pilot project was introduced into law (PC 1203.099) in July 2019 with a sunset date of July 1, 2022 (although the deadline was extended for another year due to pandemic restrictions). Under the new code, the BIP’s were to have components which are evidence-based or promising practices and had to use manualized curriculum.  Four curriculums were chosen to meet this requirement.  The counties were required to collect offender demographic information, criminal history, risk and needs assessment levels and whether the offender completed the program as well as recidivism six months after completion. All information was to be submitted annually to the Legislature (CSAC) for further analysis.

The first-year report provided the framework for measuring recidivism and the program curriculum’s which were chosen by the participating counties.  Options included a 52-week, 26-week, and 16-week curriculum framework.

The second-year report reflected enhanced data collection and some recidivism reports. At this point many of the counties had returned to full programming after pandemic restrictions, so future reports should be more uniform in data collection.

Second Front-CAO

While this pilot project has been underway, the California Auditor’s Office (CAO) conducted a review of five other counties, not connected to the AB372 Pilot Project.  In California, the county probation departments are tasked with the certification and compliance review of the BIP’s in their counties.  The auditor’s report was released in October 2022 and found that the probation departments they evaluated were found to “not adequately hold offenders accountable to the conditions of their probation, including that they complete the required batterer intervention program”.  Various recommendations were submitted by the CAO, including the transfer of the certification/review process to the Department of Justice instead of the county probation departments.

Third Front-CPOC

Fortunately, during the past six years, the California Probation Chief’s Association (CPOC) training division and Advisory Committee has been developing and providing domestic violence specific trainings to address the various issues facing county probation officers who supervise domestic violence offenders.  In 2020, during the pandemic, they offered a newly designed 2-day DV Core training for officers assigned to DV caseloads.  The course was offered virtually twice yearly (2020, 2021, 2022 Spring) and in the Fall of 2022, it was finally offered in-person. The officers have given the course high marks for providing the training they need to competently supervise DV offenders, work effectively with victims, and understand the role of BIP’s in a coordinated community response model.

Concurrently, the newly designed “BIP Best Practices” course was offered twice in the Fall of 2022 to resoundingly positive reviews by officers! The timeliness and necessity of this training was confirmed by the October Auditor’s report and CPOC hopes to expand it’s offerings of this training in the coming year.

Final Thoughts

While still a work in progress, overall, California is working to reduce the levels of intimate partner violence thru more research-based supervision efforts and requiring BIP’s to use evidence-based materials and promising practices.  With targeted data collection, and increased trainings, it is anticipated that California will see more positive impact from effective batterer intervention programs over the next few years.