Addressing Issues of Domestic Violence through Community Supervision of Offenders

Article excerpt

Domestic violence is a widespread problem. A woman is raped or physically assaulted by a significant other every three minutes, and each hour, 84 stalking cases are reported to law enforcement officials. In Missouri, steps are being taken to protect and provide services to domestic violence victims--both women and children--as well as to hold batterers accountable for their behavior and help them break the cycle of violence.




Probation and Parole's Domestic Violence Unit

In 1997, the St. Louis City Circuit Attorney's Office and the St. Louis Circuit Court partnered to create the St. Louis City Domestic Violence Intervention Project. The project targets high-need risk offenders convicted of domestic violence offenses. As a result of this initiative, the Missouri Department of Corrections Board of Probation and Parole created the Domestic Violence Unit to supervise both felony and misdemeanor domestic violence offenders charged with domestic assault, assault, unlawful use of a weapon, stalking, harassment, violation of ex parte, endangering the welfare of a child or anything else that may be charged as a domestic violence offense. Intensive supervision of domestic violence offenders is critical to the safety of the community and their victims since the majority of the offenders the unit supervises have prior convictions or histories of domestic violence arrests--the strongest predictor of future criminal behavior. Also, domestic violence incidents often escalate in severity.

The St. Louis Family Violence Council, domestic violence treatment providers and Board of Probation and Parole representatives created supervision protocol for the Domestic Violence Unit. Partnerships also have been developed with the Association of Batterers Intervention Providers and the St. Louis City Family Violence Council to ensure the availability of batterer intervention services. In addition, in 2002, the Family Violence Council obtained $67,000 through a federal block grant to assist in subsidizing intervention programs for offenders.

Eligible Offenders

The Domestic Violence Unit is centrally located in St. Louis. An offender must be sentenced to probation through the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court located in St. Louis to be eligible for the program. Offenders are court-ordered to be supervised by the Domestic Violence Unit and are required to report to the probation office immediately. At that time, offenders are advised of the probation conditions and referred to a batter intervention program provided by separate agencies located in different areas of St. Louis. When offenders meet their probation officer, they under go an assessment, which involves a thorough examination of their past and current behavior in managing relationships with family members and significant others. Also at that time, offenders' present living and financial situations; physical health; associates; and educational, employment, substance abuse, criminal and juvenile histories are examined.

Domestic violence offenders are required to follow all of Missouri's standard probation conditions. However, they are also required to attend an approved batterer intervention program and comply with the supervision strategy developed by the Domestic Violence Unit, as well as with any other special conditions ordered by the court. Although offenders may receive financial assistance if a need is demonstrated, they are required to pay a portion of the assessment and treatment fees regardless of income level.

Offenders proceed through a three-phase program based on their behavior and compliance with the probation conditions. Phase 1 includes weekly office visits, employment verification, participation in a domestic violence program, urinalysis testing and home visits. Failure to comply with the program requirements results in the offender remaining in Phase 1 and additional restrictions, such as increased office visits or electronic monitoring, may be placed on the offender. …