District attorney ends alternative domestic violence course | AspenTimes.com

District attorney ends alternative domestic violence course

An effective tool that prosecutors used to prevent domestic violence was phased out last week by District Attorney Colleen Truden.Under a program implemented under former District Attorney Mac Myers, people suspected of minor domestic abuse offenses were often offered an eight-hour anger management course. More serious offenders were ordered to complete a 36-week program. Now every domestic violence offender gets 36 weeks of treatment.The decision stems from an obscure bureaucratic body in Denver.The Domestic Violence Offender Management Board is an arm of the Colorado Division of Justice. It was created by the state Assembly in 2000. It has mandated that everyone convicted of domestic violence attend the 36 courses, which are once a week and last between an hour and 90 minutes. In extreme mitigating circumstances, the requirement can be dropped to 24 courses, said Peg McGavock, director of Response-Help for Battered Women, an Aspen-based advocacy group. A message left at the Domestic Violence Offender Management Board’s office was not returned Tuesday.An expert in domestic violence treatment said Myers was looking to give people who would not likely have been charged some knowledge of domestic violence and a few tips on preventing it. He did not want to be named. Myers could not be reached for comment.”It was effective,” the source said. “I’ve been told that there was a 5 percent recidivism for [the eight-hour course].”Truden did not return messages left at her office yesterday. Studies done on the 36-week approach in Denver, Dallas, Houston and Pittsburgh showed a recidivism rate three years after treatment of 35 percent, according to the source.”If those figures are accurate, then this [eight-hour] diversion class was fairly successful.”In light of Truden’s decision, district attorneys must now decide if a minor offense is worth the person attending 36 group therapy sessions, which are often attended by people who have committed serious violence. If it isn’t worth it, cases will be dropped.The eight-hour option had numerous benefits.”It separated the really serious domestic violence cases that should go to the 36 weeks [step] from the minor first offense – pushing, shoving, that kind of thing,” McGavock said. “So we’re dealing with two totally different issues here.”In the eight-hour session, “people felt, ‘Wow, they really did me a favor. They offered me something that’s going to help me. I don’t have to go through 36 weeks of treatment, I don’t have to be thrown in with these really horrible, violent [people]. And it’s a wake-up call for my relationship,'” she said.Another matter is cost. Some families involved in domestic violence will likely have a hard time affording the nearly $1,500 the 36 sessions end up costing.”Myers devised this a couple of years ago to try to have some kind of consequences for the minor cases that didn’t really warrant putting a burden on a family to pay for 36 weeks of treatment,” McGavock said.The expert in domestic violence treatment echoed the opinion that the eight-hour sessions were not attended by “chronic abusers. That’s one of the reasons I think it was effective. The D.A. generally did a real good job of siphoning off people for the program. It’s too bad. I think it did some good. But the powers that be in Denver have their own ideas and their own agendas.”Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com

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