I and several other batterer intervention providers in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area (U.S.A.) have been working with our local Probation departments to discuss ways to improve our perpetrator programs. A major issue has been a tendency by “rogue” judges to ignore current laws, and sentencing some defendants to an 8-hour or 16-hour anger management program instead of the 52-week psycho-educational group mandated for everyone convicted of a domestic violence offense. Judges do this for many reasons, but one of them is that prosecutors often bring weak cases to court, involving first time offenders who have committed a low-level misdemeanor offense, and/or those where the victim refuses to cooperate. We are concerned that some of these defendants may pose a greater risk to victims than what the judges have determined, but at the same time we recognize that other defendants pose a very minor risk and do not require the full 52 mandated number of sessions. We believe that current one-size-fits-all policies are a major part of the problem; but while judges may demand some discretion in their sentencing decisions, we argue that it makes more sense, in terms of victim safety and offender accountability, for sentencing decisions to be made on a more systematic and rational basis.
Recently, we have been advancing the Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) model of offender rehabilitation as a possible solution to this ongoing problem. A very well-written article on the RNR model and its applicability to domestic violence cases can be found in the Research section of our website (or go directly to: http://www.domesticviolenceintervention.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Stewart2013.pdf).
The responsivity piece of the model calls for a treatment approach that acknowledges the large degree of heterogeneity among perpetrators, and the importance of establishing treatment goals based on a sound assessment and the unique characteristics of each client. I have been using such an assessment protocol for my perpetrator programs for several years, and it is available for free to anyone who is interested. E-mail me at email@example.com, or call me at (415) 472-3275.
Canada, and the state of Colorado in the United States, use the RNR model for perpetrator treatment. How is intervention determined in your area, and are you satisfied with the status quo?