Domestic Violence Awareness Month
Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency
DC Public Safety Radio
See radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/10/domestic-violence-washington-dc-csosa/.
LEONARD SIPES: From the Nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I am your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and Gentleman domestic violence is the topic of our program today, domestic violence in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States. This is Domestic Violence Awareness month for the month of October. We have two people from my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency with us today to talk about their supervision and treatment process regarding domestic violence individuals. We have Princess McDuffie, she is a Community Supervision Officer for the Domestic Violence Intervention Program and we have Marc Countiss. He is again the Community Supervision Officer – what other organizations call Parole and Probation Agents. Again he is with the Domestic Violence Program, Intervention Program here at The Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency, our website www.csosa.gov to Princess and to Marc welcome to DC Public Safety.
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Thank you for having us.
MARC COUNTISS: Thank you.
LEONARD SIPES: Alright this is really important. I mean you all deal with people who have been adjudicated as somehow, some way a court has said you need to supervise this individual and that person has put this person on probation and says that you all need to both treat and supervise this individual and keep the victim safe. Do I have that right?
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: That’s right.
LEONARD SIPES: Okay and do we involve people coming out of the prison system who are either on probation or mandatory supervision? Do we have, are they involved in the Domestic Violence Unit?
MARC COUNTISS: Yes, that’s correct.
LEONARD SIPES: Okay, so again we have parolees, we have people who are mandatorily released which means that they have served their time 85% and now they are out and we have probationers. So we have a wide variety of people. What do we have, about 30 employees doing this?
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Yes.
LEONARD SIPES: Okay and we have how many teams, that’s broken into how many teams.
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: They are broken into four teams. So there are three supervision teams and then there is one treatment team.
LEONARD SIPES: Okay, we have a lot of the people who are being supervised and treated in the Domestic Violence Unit. Correct?
MARC COUNTISS: Yes
LEONARD SIPES: Okay, tell me about it. Tell me about your experiences. I mean domestic violence is a very important topic to me. I remember as a young police officer, an awfully long time ago, dealing with domestic violence issues and it scared me half to death. I mean I have never seen my parents fight. My first case involving domestic violence we rode up and there was a woman who answered the door, a neighbor called. She didn’t call and her face was like twice its size. Her husband beat her with a frying pan and I was just floored, I was just appalled over this vicious act against people who supposedly love each other. I have gone to other cases where a man was firing bullets into the wall with his wife on the other side of it. I mean domestic violence is a real issue. It is an insidious issue. It is something that impacts way too many American families. Correct?
MARC COUNTISS: Yes this is correct.
LEONARD SIPES: Tell me about it; tell me about your experiences. How long have you been doing it Princess?
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: And so, I have been here at CSOSA for eight years. I have been on the treatment team for two going on three years.
LEONARD SIPES: Were you on the supervision side for domestic violence before you worked for the treatment unit?
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: I was for five years.
LEONARD SIPES: For five years, so you have been, your entire experience has been involved in domestic violence, right?
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Yes it has.
LEONARD SIPES: Right tell me about that. What are your feelings? You have eight years supervising at this point. You have come into direct contact with thousands of people involved in domestic violence cases, right?
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Correct.
LEONARD SIPES: Tell me about them.
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: And so initially it can be a bit overwhelming. Folks come in with different belief systems and it is our job to penetrate those different belief systems. It is our job to help them and arm them with tools that they need in order for them to have healthy relationships. And so part of that is providing them with information about respect, accountability, boundaries, making sure that they are aware of their behaviors. You know domestic violence is something that can be intergenerational you know, it can be something that they witnessed as a child and so therefore they are mimicking the same behaviors that they had seen as children and no one has challenged them to change their behavior. The environments that they surround themselves in also perpetuate that same type of behavior. So it’s our job to give them the information that they need to make changes and have positive and healthy relationships.
LEONARD SIPES: For a lot of individuals Marc, on community supervision that we deal with, for the first time, in many cases for the first time in their lives they’re being told that they can’t do this.
MARC COUNTISS: That is correct. Because as Princess said, a lot of times when we talk about domestic violence, we are talking about something that is a learned behavior, where individuals have gone through different generations learning that and feeling that violence is acceptable and it’s appropriate and this is probably the first time that many of our offenders have been told that this behavior is inappropriate and the fact is, it’s not going to be accepted or tolerated.
LEONARD SIPES: And that is very difficult for a lot of them to accept because they have grown up in households where they have seen domestic violence. They see that as normal. They don’t see it as abnormal. They see it as normal behavior, the right to strike your wife or the right to strike your husband is a normal action that there is nothing wrong with it.
MARC COUNTISS: Right and typically we get a lot of resistance. We get a lot of defenses when individuals come to us for services because it goes against their core really. It goes against the belief systems and our challenge is to dispute these irrational beliefs and show them that there are healthier ways and more appropriate ways of being in a relationship.
LEONARD SIPES: There are times where you have to say, “You can’t do that. You cannot continue this behavior. It is not only wrong, it is not only illegal, it is just flat out unacceptable and you can’t do it.” and I have talked to different people who have worked for our agency throughout the years, again Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and I should remind the audience throughout the country that we are a federally funded parole and probation agency serving Washington DC so that will give people a context in terms of when I say talk to our people. But I have talked to people on the domestic, in the Domestic Violence Unit for years and they have told me that it is very difficult sometimes to get through to the individuals who we supervise. “You can’t do this its wrong and I am going to try to give you the tools that you need to understand how you can respond appropriately to your loved one in the future.” Correct?
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Correct. And so the beauty of facilitating groups is that there are peer groups and so there are folks in the grope that are just like, you know, they’re all alike in a sense, you know, a lot of them come from the same backgrounds. They have been charged with similar offences, and so when they challenge one another it is authentic. You know it is something that they can appreciate and that they can respect as appose to a facilitator whose life and walks of life and background is quite different from theirs. And so that is the beauty of facilitating a group and allowing the peers in the group to challenge each other and let them know that, you know, what you are doing is wrong and these are ways that you can change things. Yes this is; you know I was arrested for this but these are ways that I can change my behavior. These are some of the things that you can arm yourself with to change your behavior as well.
LEONARD SIPES: Now, we have individuals there who don’t do well under supervision and we do have to talk about the supervision process. One of the things that we here at the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency are dedicated to is a twofold process of both supervision and assistance. So you guys are in the assistance part of it, in terms of running the groups to try using the Duluth model I think it is which is a nationally understood, nationally known model of dealing with people who are in domestic violence case loads; but at that same time we do supervise them and we do hold them accountable for their behavior. So if there is a court order saying that you have got to stay away from your wife and you have to give, what’s the boundary for a typical protective order for a female involved in domestic violence or a woman, a victim involved in domestic violence, what is it?
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: So that person would have to stay 100 feet away from the person, away from the school, child care, home, place of employment. Those are some of the boundaries that they would have.
LEONARD SIPES: Right, okay so we can actually, if we find that they are violating that or coming close to violating that we can put them on GPS tracking, Global Position System Tracking so we can keep track of their whereabouts 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I am not saying that somebody is looking at a computer monitor but we do come in and look at where he has been and where she has been and we can tell whether or not they are violating that restraining order correct?
MARC COUNTISS: Yes that’s correct. The GPS is another tool that we can use to help assist us in victim safety. We also do periodic case staffing, if we find that an individual is having difficulty remaining in compliance or following the stay away order so we are always meeting with the offender as well as the victim in the cases to make sure that we are doing what we can to make sure that she remains safe.
LEONARD SIPES: Now it is 90% to my knowledge and correct me if I’m wrong, I am not asking you for exact numbers, but my experience has been 90% of the victims of domestic violence are women. Am I correct, for our particular case load? So we are talking about the overwhelming majority of cases men battering women.
MARC COUNTISS: Yes. Right.
LEONARD SIPES: Okay, they could be married. They could be cohabitating, they could be dating but they are intimate with each other. They are not strangers to each other. This is not a stranger to stranger crime. This is the people who do know each other and have had a relationship with each other.
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Yes, but I also want to make it clear that we also have female batterers groups and so females are also perpetrators of domestic violence.
LEONARD SIPES: Right and for those groups we have women who need to be given the same message that they cannot batter. That it is inappropriate and wrong and they can’t do it.
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Correct.
LEONARD SIPES: Do we find that women pick up on this better than the men, worse than the men, same thing.
MARC COUNTISS: I would say both men and women have some of the same belief systems so we have to make sure that we are challenging both those beliefs as well because when you talk about it being learnt behavior sometimes men learn that violence is acceptable as well as women learn the same thing.
LEONARD SIPES: But you know that is the interesting part of this. We are not talking about somebody who decides to commit an act, say, use drugs and its episodic and it happens every once in a while and that is a decision a person makes at 14, 17, 25 whatever. This is ingrained in that individual, in many cases, if not mostly all cases throughout their lives. This is something that is part and parcel to their own personality, part and parcel to their own makeup. So convincing them that this is not something that they can do, should do, convincing them that it is wrong takes a lot of doing does it not?
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: And it does and we focus a lot on you know, changing that behavior. Talking about the flip side, well it is still the Duluth model but the equality wheel. We talk about respect, accountability. We talk about responsible parenting but we also talk about consequences. You know, the consequences of your actions led you to CSOSA, and so we defiantly talk about, you know, your actions can result in incarceration, can result in you being away from your friends and family that you love and so we defiantly talk about the outcome of your behaviors.
LEONARD SIPES: And we are not going to hesitate, if he violates the order, we go back to the judge. If he provides problems for us or her, if they don’t meet the stipulations of their supervision under our agency, we can take them back to the parole commission, we can take them back to the courts and they can go back to prison or go to prison.
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Correct.
LEONARD SIPES: I mean that’s a very serious consequence if they do not meet their mandate.
MARC COUNTISS: Yes it is.
LEONARD SIPES: Okay we drug test them as well do we not?
MARC COUNTISS: Yes.
LEONARD SIPES: Okay I’m finding throughout my career that drugs and alcohol are heavily connected, correlated to domestic violence. Am I right or wrong?
MARC COUNTISS: This is true. A lot of the individuals that come to our program do have histories of alcohol use and drug abuse. However, we have to be very careful when we are looking at this issue of substance abuse because we don’t want to get to a point where we start to rationalize or justify an individual’s behavior and say that this is why they were violent or abusive, because they were on drugs or because they were drinking because it is often times that individuals are drinking and they are not violent or abusive. So we don’t want to give them an excuse to say this is why they became violent.
LEONARD SIPES: Right, but we do drug test them do we not? I mean we do test them for drugs and alcohol and that is often at times can be another factor that we have to deal with in terms of their, shall I say the word recovery. There are adjustments that we have to deal with. There are substance abuse issues, do we not?
MARC COUNTISS: Yes.
LEONARD SIPES: Okay. And so we do either refer them out to other agencies or if they are serious enough we take care of it ourselves here within Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. What about mental health problems? Over a third of our case load has had histories of mental health issues. So I am trying to, I guess, provide layers of the complexity of what it is you have to do because you have to deal with mental health issues as well as substance abuse issues, as well as something that they thought was appropriate behavior.
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: And that is true, you know, as being on the Domestic Violence Intervention Team we have a treatment program that is specifically geared towards those that have mental health diagnosis and so one of the things that we do, we use the same curriculum but we defiantly take things in a different direction for them based on their mental health illness.
LEONARD SIPES: We are more than half way through the program. We are doing a program today on domestic violence and the way that we do it here in the District of Columbia but it represents efforts from throughout the United States in terms of parole and probation agencies. We have two people by our microphones today: Princess McDuffie, she is a Community Supervision Officer, again, what other agencies, virtually all other agencies in the United States call Parole and Probation Unit that she is with the Domestic Violence Intervention Program and we have Marc Countess. He is a Community Supervision Officer with the Domestic Violence Intervention Program www.csosa.gov is the website for the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency.
And we just did a program with the Superior Court here in the District of Columbia on the issue of domestic violence just a couple of weeks ago and I will put in the links to that show as well to give the listeners a comprehensive overview of what we do. We had the judge who was in charge of the Domestic Violence Program for the Superior Court. He was very complementary of CSOSA. Their program is special. They have two intake units throughout the city. They deal with close to 100 cases of domestic violence a day which I found astounding and they work with a lot of agencies including ourselves to try to provide services to individuals because people come to us with employment issues, mental health issues, substance abuse issues, child care issues and so we try, they and we try to do wrap around services to try to get that individual in as many services as possible to stabilize their situation right or wrong?
MARC COUNTISS: That’s correct.
LEONARD SIPES: Tell me about it.
MARC COUNTISS: There has to be a coordinated community response to domestic violence. The courts can’t handle it alone, intervention programs cannot handle it alone, victim servicers programs can’t handle it alone. We have to work in conjunction with each other to make sure that individuals are receiving the services that are necessary.
LEONARD SIPES: Right. Now on a community supervision side again we are, I mentioned GPS before, I mentioned drug testing. We are in constant contact with this individual in the community are we not, on the supervision side?
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: We are.
LEONARD SIPES: Okay, and so we are going and making home visits, sometimes unannounced home visits. We meet with them in the office so it’s just not you guys who are working on the treatment side, there are people within our agency who are concurrently supervising that person, making sure that they are not engaged in any other nefarious actives out there in the community. Correct?
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Correct. And even on the supervision and treatment side, you know, we make sure that there is a coordinated response when things do happen. While we may not discuss in detail about the group process and what is talked about there, you know if we feel like someone may be in imminent harm or danger we will make contact with the supervision officer and we will have a coordinated effort to make sure that the victim isn’t being re-victimized.
LEONARD SIPES: And we are also working with law enforcement agencies, specifically in our case the Metropolitan Police Department, but there are lots of other law enforcement agencies in the District of Columbia, they are the principal, by far, law enforcement agency but we will work with law enforcement agencies to coordinate the response and to pick up intelligent because often at times that law enforcement officer will contact us and say, “You know that person who beat up his wife, I saw him on the corner making noise and obviously he was, you know, drunk and neighbors were complaining so I’m passing that information along to you guys so you can take appropriate action.” That happens as well does it not?
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: That’s correct.
LEONARD SIPES: Okay so all the agencies are suppose to be working together to protect the victim and make sure that the offender gets the services he or she needs.
MARC COUNTISS: Yes.
LEONARD SIPES: Okay, how do you feel about this, by the way? I am going to ask you the same questions I asked a Superior Court Judge you know, how do you feel after years of dealing with folks in the Domestic Violence Unit? I mean that’s got to take its toll on you personally as members of this agency.
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: It does at times but it’s one of those things where you want to make sure that the person who is the perpetrator is getting what he or she needs so that ultimately they can have a healthy family, a healthy life. Making sure that their children even recognize that there has been some changes in Mom and Dad because they have the tools that they need to be successful and be healthy.
LEONARD SIPES: Now I would imagine that an awful lot of these cases, if not the majority of these cases do involve kids, do they not Marc?
MARC COUNTISS: Yes they do.
LEONARD SIPES: Right so you’re talking about a man and a women, we are talking about kids, we are talking about in many cases substance abuse, mental health problems, in some cases joblessness, again we are not making excuses for those people who batter but we are saying these are realities of what it is you have to deal with. Correct?
MARC COUNTISS: Yes, what we have to do is we have to make sure that when individuals come to our groups that they know that this offence not only impacts them and the victim it also has an impact on their children, it has an impact on society and our community and to let them know that there are healthier ways of managing conflict and dealing with dispute. So it’s an ongoing battle and struggle to get this across because normally individuals may not get it the first time. So that’s why our groups are approximately 22 weeks long. And so over that time individuals get an opportunity to practice their skills and utilize the tools and normally their defenses become lessened and they embrace more of the information.
LEONARD SIPES: Well they have to come to grips with this because it just doesn’t affect them it affects their spouse, it affects their kids. I mean if we can intervene here at this level and straighten it out and make sure that the kids understand that what Dad did or what Mom did is wrong by involving them in the process, we could be putting a stop to, Princess, you mentioned something that is often at times intergenerational. This is something that has been going on for decades and sometimes grandparents and parents and kids are all part of the same spectrum.
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: And that is correct and part of it is making sure that the parents are armed with what they need to be armed with so that it then trickles down to the children and so we can stop the cycle of abuse. We have to make sure that they are implementing the concepts that we are talking about when we are talking about, you know, isolation – what does that mean? Have you seen this done before. How can we prevent those types of things? And again we talk about consequences. What are the consequences of your actions? Making sure folks are held accountable for what they have done and taken ownership of what they have done.
LEONARD SIPES: Well I think that you guys probably have one of the toughest beats I can possibly imagine because when I was a police officer I said to myself, you know there is no way I could handle this sort of thing day in, day out. There was just no way, it was too traumatic. Give me an armed robbery, give me a terrible automobile accident, give me anything besides seeing people who supposedly love each other, destroy each other and to see that the kids are involved in it at the same time. For me it was very emotional. I found it to be probably the most difficult thing that I handled beside you know a fatal accident or somebody dying, the probably most difficult thing I had to handle as a police officer. That is why I was asking you how does it impact you directly as people.
MARC COUNTISS: It does have a direct impact on us but it is also important that we as facilitators, we as community supervision officers make sure that we take care of ourselves as well, so self care is a big part of it, dealing with this level of stress, this level of secondary trauma. So it is important that we do the things that are necessary to take care of ourselves.
LEONARD SIPES: Do we, I’m assuming we have our fair share of victories. I’m assuming we have our fair share of individuals who come to grips with the fact that they can’t do this and understand the impact that it is having on the kids and understand the impact that it’s having on their spouse or their loved one? That’s got to be gratifying at the same time when they finally come to grips with, they can’t do this. Now they understand the damage that they have done. Now they own up to it and now they are looking for ways to end this pattern.
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: And so in treatment like Marc said. They are 22 weeks with us. I mean that is just shy of six months on a weekly basis for an hour and a half. You meet with us, we have a group. And so as Marc also said initially they are resistant, you know they are defensive, they don’t want to talk about the issue. They want to blame everybody else. But you notice some change talk within those 22 weeks. You notice them coming around. You notice them, you know, being accountable for what they did. You notice them saying, “You know what I am responsible for what happened. I am responsible for being here in this setting but there are some things that I can do to change that and this is what I am going to do.” and so that is the beauty of the treatment process in that you can see someone who was very resistant start to change, start to accept responsibility and say, you know, today is a new day and I am going to do things differently.
LEONARD SIPES: Do they really apologize to their kids? Do they really apologize to their spouse for their behavior?
MARC COUNTISS: In some cases where they may have contact with that individual there is a portion where they can make amends. When we talk about accepting responsibility and acknowledging it and being able to apologies and say that they are sorry. So in the event that there is a stay away order in place we don’t advise it. However, if an individual still maintains contact or sees their children, we recommend that the individual apologize and they try to make things right.
LEONARD SIPES: And in the program in terms of the courts that we did that there are safe places where the batterer can come into contact with his kids, that is being supervised by the courts or supervised by us, where they can interact with their kids and the victim does not have to worry. Correct?
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: That is correct, the visitation center.
LEONARD SIPES: So there is all sorts of contact that is still going on even though a protective order may be in place but it’s a supervised, safe place for the victim?
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Correct.
LEONARD SIPES: Now we deal with same sex couples as well.
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Yes, we do.
LEONARD SIPES: And is there anything different in terms of same sex couples?
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: No the curriculum is the same.
MARC COUNTISS: And really when we look at the dynamics of domestic violence, you find a lot of similarities whether they are same sex couples or not.
LEONARD SIPES: Young adults, we have younger individuals on our case loads and they have been involved in acts of domestic violence. I would imagine dealing with the younger folks as a bit more difficult than dealing with the older folks. Am I right or wrong?
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: There are challenges. There are definitely challenges when you talk about age, the difference in age. And so what the facilitators tend to do is to use some of the things that pertain to that particular population and so whether that is pulling something out of the headlines, whether that is music. We use the Duluth model but we also try to use some different things so that it’s relatable.
LEONARD SIPES: But I would image especially with younger people but I think it crosses over to everybody involved, that we do have the music, we do have the culture. I am amazed when I listen to music, of music that does, almost encourage violence towards women, movies, television shows, sometimes I feel that they are not just getting the wrong message from their upbringing they are getting the wrong message from society as well.
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: And that is correct. And what we try to do is personalize it. You know, would you want that going on with your Mom or your sister? We try to make sure that we speak to them in a way that you know, they can understand. Speak to them in their culture, in their language, making sure that they understand the consequences of their actions.
LEONARD SIPES: But we’re trying so hard to provide services and instruction so that they can straighten out their lives, so that they can understand that it is wrong but again I do want to emphasis that if that does not work we will go back to court and we will go back to the Parole Commission and say, “I think this person needs to be off the streets.” If that person violates the protective order we take a look at our GPS coordinates, we hear from police that he is in the area. We can put him back; we can put him in prison or put him back in prison, correct?
PRINCESS MCDUFFIE: Well we can take them before the judge and have the judge make that recommendation.
LEONARD SIPES: Right we don’t do it but we have to take them to the judge and we have to take them to the Parole Commission so the bottom line is that we will do it if necessary but we will do, we will take all steps necessary to try to convince them that they need to straighten out their path. Correct?
MARC COUNTISS: Correct.
LEONARD SIPES: Alright, I want to thank both of you for being on the program today. I can’t think of anything more difficult than the domestic violence beat and I want to personally thank both of you and everybody in this agency and parole and probation agencies throughout the county that are dealing with domestic violence victims. Ladies and Gentleman our program today has been on domestic violence here in the District of Columbia and again I think it is very typical what we discussed today happening throughout the country. This is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Our guests today have been Princess McDuffie and Marc Countiss, again they are with my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and I want everybody to have themselves a very, very, pleasant day.