Supervising Domestic Violence Offenders

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[Video Begins]

Segment One

Leonard Sipes: Hi, welcome to D.C. Public Safety, I’m Len Sipes. Our show today focuses on domestic violence, and every one of us knows someone who has been a victim of this crime. The question is whether or not domestic violence offenders can be successfully supervised and treated? Can they end the cycle of interpersonal violence? To answer that question we have two individuals on our first segment; one currently under supervision by my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and the person in charge of supervising domestic violence offenders. They are branch chief Valerie Collins and Dennis Smith. And to Valerie and to Dennis, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Dennis Smith: Thank you.

Valerie Collins: Thank you.

Leonard Sipes: All right, Valerie, you’re the person in charge, you’ve been around for 20 years, you’re the true veteran-give me a sense of your Domestic Violence Unit in the District of Columbia; how many offenders do you supervise, and how many staff are supervising people?

Valerie Collins: Currently we have about 1200 offenders under supervision for domestic violence.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, so that’s one thousand two hundred?

Valerie Collins: One thousand two hundred.

Leonard Sipes: That’s a lot of people.

Valerie Collins: It’s a lot of people.

Leonard Sipes: And how many staff do we have to do that?

Valerie Collins: And right now we have about 50 staff-

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Valerie Collins: -who provide supervision and treatment services.

Leonard Sipes: Well that’s a big staff and that’s a lot of offenders to supervise, and you just hit the two key themes of this show, which is supervising domestic violence offenders and treating domestic violence offenders. Tell me a little bit about the treatment.

Valerie Collins: Well, our treatment component is a 22-week psychosocial educational program; we follow the Duluth model for domestic violence, which is the national model-

Leonard Sipes: And the Duluth-the national model, yes.

Valerie Collins: -in the country. And basically what we do is we provide our services for the offenders, they come in once a week for a 90-minute period, they come into a group setting and they learn about domestic violence. They learn to take responsibility for their behavior. And then the key component is getting some skill so that they will no longer engage in this behavior.

Leonard Sipes: Right. At the same time, we do supervise the dickens out of them, we drug test them, we hold them very accountable, and we’ll get to that in a second. Dennis, one of the things that I wanted to do with you, Valerie mentioned taking responsibility, and in conversations that we’ve had, one of the hallmarks of where you are right now in terms of being charged with this crime is just that, taking responsibility, correct?

Dennis Smith: That is correct.

Leonard Sipes: Tell me a little bit about what happened to you and how you got involved in all of this.

Dennis Smith: Well basically I had an ongoing cycle with my wife. She was my live-in girlfriend for quite a while and we had many reoccurrences in the city of Richmond where I was charged with domestic violence, and I was given mild jail terms, suspended sentences. Moved to D.C. and within a ten-year period, we had no occurrences of that, once we got married the cycle picked up again.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. So the cycle of physical violence between intimate couples is not unusual. One of the things, and this question can go to either one of you, one of the things that I read in a Department of Justice document the other day was that one in 300 households experiences domestic violence. So as ride the train or the subway, or as we ride through the District or Virginia or Maryland, it’s easy to see thousands upon thousands of homes, which means we’re looking at hundreds of victims of domestic violence-this is not unusual. Valerie.

Valerie Collins: You’re absolutely correct, Mr. Sipes. Domestic violence cuts across all racial and socioeconomic lines, and so it’s not just a problem that you would say is in one particular neighborhood or you know, one particular city, but it is a national problem.

Leonard Sipes: Right. But Dennis, going back to you set of circumstances, all right, so you were charged before, you moved the District of Columbia, and you were charged again in the District of Columbia. Now what happened-the judge gave you what?

Dennis Smith: The judge gave me an imposed sentence of conditionary probation, meaning if I completed all the requirements of the program that the record would be expunged-

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Dennis Smith: -and that I would be turned released in good standing.

Leonard Sipes: Now you went through-when you came to the program, is this what you ordinarily got in the past, or was this a different experience?

Dennis Smith: This was a totally different experience. In the past I might have gotten seven days in jail, weekend incarceration, or what they call weekend support where I would do detail work for the Department of Transportation cleaning up roadsides.

Leonard Sipes: But nothing was there to help you understand that pattern of domestic violence and the fact that it’s, you know, completely unacceptable, as you and I would agree today, and that it’s wrong and that’s the bottom line, correct?

Dennis Smith: Correct. The difference here was that in D.C. it is mandatory upon being charged, that you go through what’s called pre-trial drug testing. And from what I gathered, that gave them the basic information to set up certain programs to educate me in ways of dealing with the stressing, the relationship, the financial difficulties that they go through which possibly leads up a lot of the domestic violence.

Leonard Sipes: Right, and basically talking about the triggers and how to deal with those triggers. In other words, when something happens in your life where in the past you would have reached out and hurt somebody or touched somebody, you know how to deal with those triggers without hurting or touching somebody, correct?

Dennis Smith: Correct. You implement what they call safety plans-they teach you how to implement safety plans and they give you fallback solutions, things that normally if you were caught in that cycle, you wouldn’t even think of, ‘hey, this is the simplest thing to do.’ You have a set of keys, walk out-walk away, turn around or just say, ‘I’m sorry,’ don’t react.

Leonard Sipes: Now I’ll express-the question can go to either one of you-I’ll express my own prejudice. There’s too much within our society that says it’s okay to hit women. I understand that it goes both ways, but the overwhelming majority of the perpetrators of domestic violence are men. So there is too much in our society-there’s too much in terms of music, there’s too much in terms of movies, there’s too much in terms of our attitudes that essentially says that it is okay for a man to physically assault a woman under those set of circumstances. And I think it’s very difficult because we in the larger society are sending a dual message; on one side we’re saying, ‘you do not touch your significant other, you do not touch your wife, you do not touch your spouse,’ and at the same time movies and music and the larger society for decades, for decades now has basically said, ‘no, it is okay to manhandle your significant other.’ Comments?

Valerie Collins: Well it was in the early 90s when things began to change regarding domestic violence, particularly in the District-1991, the mandatory arrest law, which indicated that, you know, when the police came to the home, we had to make an arrest. Previously, as Mr. Smith indicated, a lot times they come to the home and usually the male, 95% of battering is done by males, will be told to take a walk around the corner, go cool down, come back, there’s no intervention. And a week later the police are right back there to the same home.

Leonard Sipes: Over, and over, and over, and over again to the same home.

Valerie Collins: And over again-exactly. And the other thing with the treatment component is it’s the first opportunity for men to come and talk about what’s going on in terms of domestic violence-the issues of power/control, because that’s what it’s all about, domestic violence is power/control issues.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Valerie Collins: So you give them the opportunity to talk about, you know, take responsibility for their behaviors, identify the type of behaviors they’ve engaged in, and then also have that forum with other men to discuss you know, ‘well what are your emotions beneath the anger? What are your cues to violence?’ as Mr. Smith talked about, and, ‘when you have those cues, how can I go ahead and take that time out?’ Walk away. A lot of men feel like if you walk away that’s not something that’s manly.

Leonard Sipes: Well Dennis, I want to get to that-how difficult is it for a group of men to sit together and talk about these feelings and talk about these emotions? Because my guess is a lot of the guys who are participating in these sessions feel up to this point, it’s a private matter.

Dennis Smith: Well, a lot of the groups I sat in, I found that amongst ourselves we’re able to let down that guard, but it’s totally different when you are in the moment, right in the moment of that situation that just blew out of control. And you’re looking at it from your perspective-it could be I just finished putting in 12 hours and I don’t understand why she’s coming in at me like this, and there’s no trigger to think-

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Dennis Smith: -at that point-

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Dennis Smith: -you just react.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Dennis Smith: And before you know it, both of you are reacting and before you know it, it’s beyond reaction anymore. It’s gotten to the point where somebody, be it the male or the female, has reached out because no one had the ability to say, ‘okay, I can control this, I can stop this, this is gonna go way beyond where it needs to go.’ You’re reacting to that anger versus just kicking in a five-second, or a ten-second thought pattern and say, ‘why?’

Leonard Sipes: Do you feel that the folks within the group understand this, embrace it as you have? And you’re obviously very aware of what’s happened, you’re obviously very tuned into what’s happened, and I applaud you for that. But do you feel that the average man who comes into these groups is going to have the same sort of experience and thought process that you have now?

Dennis Smith: Initially I would say no, but the facilitators that y’all are using are the key role in establishing the control at that point. Some of the facilitators that I’ve worked with were able to break down that still present anger. You’re never gonna get rid of that anger until that individual accepts who he is, what he is, and accepts the change that y’all are trying to give him.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Dennis Smith: But once that facilitator sees that channel of anger and he directs how to release it-

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Dennis Smith: -and within the group he tells us how to talk about it, how to get it out there. We don’t know-

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Dennis Smith: -we come at each other the same way we come at our mates in those groups.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Dennis Smith: But that facilitator then interjects key things that we don’t know from living that cycle for so long. And if we absorb what that facilitator is saying and not take it personal as an attack on our character, then we can sit back and have a channel of thought. Once we engage that channel of thought that, ‘hey, maybe I am this controlling guy,’ because for me, personally I said-I constantly said I wasn’t controlling.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Dennis Smith: And there were instances where I felt that the mate was the controller.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Dennis Smith: But in all actuality what the facilitator taught me was I am the controller because I’m the one blowing it. I’m the one throwing steam.

Leonard Sipes: Right, and that you can control your own life, you can control set of circumstances, you can control those triggers.

Dennis Smith: I can also approach it, and that’s what he kept on emphasizing with me, the way I was approaching was the trigger.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Dennis Smith: And her, not just my anger.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Dennis Smith: What I was saying and how I was saying was making her mad, making her come back at me. And each time she came back, I came back stronger because I was the stronger of the men.

Leonard Sipes: Valerie, we don’t have a lot of time in this first segment, but do you think that Dennis’ experience is pretty much characteristic of the other men who get involved in domestic violence, counseling treatment?

Valerie Collins: Dennis has said a couple key things. The first thing he said that he learned this-

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Valerie Collins: -you know, he says it’s something he’s been doing for a long time, so it is learned behavior.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Valerie Collins: So they come to the groups, this is what they know; this is what they’ve learned in their family of origin. It’s intergenerational, you know, this has been going on, has been passed down, you know, from generation to generation as I said. And the other thing is the whole communication piece, and that’s the other thing as Dennis talked about in the group, is that you come and a lot of men, and this not an indictment on men, but a lot of men aren’t able to come and express their feelings. They’re able to say, ‘I was angry,’ but they can’t identify that they felt disrespected by their mate, you know, that they felt lonely when she went out with her mother shopping-

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Valerie Collins: -or something like that.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Valerie Collins: So it’s getting them to identify their feelings and take responsibility for those feelings and then communicate that with their mate.

Leonard Sipes: If not only ending violence, but it’s improving the quality of their life at the same time.

Valerie Collins: Exactly, yes.

Leonard Sipes: Would the same message that domestic violence is completely unacceptable-

Valerie Collins: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: -and everybody knows that and everybody is comfortable with that after the treatment do you think?

Valerie Collins: Yes, I would say we have probably about 70, 75% success rate in terms of our group completion. So if people stay in there, they hang in there, it’s tough when you first get there.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Valerie Collins: I would say those first three to four sessions no one wants to be there, they’re very angry, but if they hang in there and they bond with the group, then they’re able to move forward-

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Valerie Collins: -they’re able to deal with their own issues and their emotions and express that in a group-and get the help, like he said, from the facilitators.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, we’re gonna stop you right there. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being with us on the first half of D.C. Public Safety as we discussed domestic violence. Stay with us for the second half as we continue this very, very, very interesting conversation. We’ll be right back.
Segment Two

Leonard Sipes: Hi, and welcome back to D.C. Public Safety, I’m Len Sipes. Our next two guests are Valerie Collins, who you met in the first segment, and Mark Collins, a community supervision officer who supervises domestic violence offenders on a daily basis. And to Valerie and Mark, welcome back to D.C. Public Safety. Welcome, Valerie, you had a major role in the first segment with Dennis as Dennis was explaining this whole metamorphosis that he went through. Certainly 15 minutes does not give it enough time, but we have this unfortunate sense of mostly men batters who think it’s okay to take out there expressions, to take out their frustrations in a violent way towards principally female victims. And I understand it’s a lot more complicated than that. For the men watching this show, I understand that whoever have been in this set of circumstances, I understand that they’re far more complicated than that. But the bottom line is that they can not hit, they can not touch, they can not strike their wives-significant other. They go through this training process, this counseling process where they learn that, and what you’re saying is that most of them come out of that with a sense that they understand that they can not do this.

Valerie Collins: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: And that to me is a remarkable turnaround because isn’t a good part of the domestic violence problem cultural, that in many cases we come with this sense that it’s okay to do this?

Valerie Collins: Well it’s cultural, we’ve learned it just in society in general that you know, men are pretty much, you know, a king of the castle, that’s kind of in the historical point of view. And I can say it’s not changed until, you know, really the 90s when a lot of victims advocate groups got together and said, you know, ‘we have to make a change,’ and that’s because a lot of women were losing their lives as a result of domestic violence.

Leonard Sipes: And they were being battered half to death in some cases.

Valerie Collins: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: I going to tell you my experience, when I was a very young state trooper going to a house and finding the woman open the door and her face was twice its size-he had just beaten her with a frying pan. And my parents never-I never had this problem at home, and it was just completely flabbergasting. I can deal with horrible automobile accidents, I can deal with lots of different things, but that act of domestic violence completely threw me for a loop. That’s what we’re talking about in many cases aren’t we? The pushing and shoving and the hitting-in some cases, it can be pretty graphic.

Valerie Collins: It can be graphic but domestic violence is not only hitting and shoving and pushing. I think that’s important to understand that also, that there’s emotional violence, economic abuse, people threaten people with domestic violence. And the thing about domestic violence is if I threaten you, you know, maybe I point a gun at you or threaten to kill you, then I don’t have to hit you-it’s really all about power/control, it’s not just the hitting.

Leonard Sipes: All right. So larger issue-

Valerie Collins: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: And that’s a very important point.

Valerie Collins: Yes it is.

Leonard Sipes: So just to reemphasize, not to beat the point to death, and so we can have offenders who come into our program and actually truly recognize all of this and deal with all of this, and the vast majority will walk away with a sense that, ‘I’m not going to do this again,’ and they’re successful?

Valerie Collins: And we have to teach them also not to replace the physical violence with another form of violence.

Leonard Sipes: Right, okay.

Valerie Collins: So we do go through the entire what we call, you know, wheel of different types of violence so that they will understand that there are many forms of violence. And that really what you’re trying to get them to the point is where they’re gonna have what you call a relationship that’s based upon equality.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Valerie Collins: And so they have to understand about what it is to be in a relationship and a healthy relationship.

Leonard Sipes: I’m just trying-

Valerie Collins: So we go much beyond just talking about the hitting part of domestic violence.

Leonard Sipes: And that was my point of the first segment, was not only are they taught how to deal with their raw emotions during this time, but also as in many ways a way of improving their relationships with their significant others.

Valerie Collins: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: Mark, you’ve been doing this for five years in the domestic violence beat, you’ve seen at this of the game just about everything possible. What’s your impression of the program and the sense of domestic violence across the board?

Mark Collins: Well I think CSOSA and the domestic violence program is doing wonders in the District of Columbia. Mr. Dennis Smith is one classic example of how the domestic violence-the treatment, the services that CSOSA has provided can actually impact an individual in a major way.

Leonard Sipes: And I think that’s one of the reasons why we have folks like Dennis on this program, was to, you know, whether the public hears it from me and hears it, sees it from you, I’m not quite sure it has the same impact if something like Dennis who has been caught up in the system, mature enough to understand that what he did was wrong and to learn from it and to move on and improved his life.

Mark Collins: Right, and that’s the key. We don’t want Dennis to leave or get off of probation this particular time and then to come back.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Mark Collins: We want him to be able to get off of probation and proceed with his life never to come back again, that’s our goal.

Leonard Sipes: In so many of these instances-again, as a young police officer, so many children are involved. You know, you go into a house and there’s an argument and a neighbor has called and you go in and there’s three or four kids. And the three or four kids are exposed to this, and you know that it’s not the first time that they’ve been exposed to it. So the other larger point that I wanted to make is that it’s just not these two individuals, it’s just not their relationship, it’s just not our statistics, it is the lives of multiple, multiple children who are caught up in this as well. And they are brought up with this sense of hitting and being hit and that this is the appropriate way to conduct their lives, then that propels them into acts of violence possibly in the future.

Mark Collins: That’s correct.

Leonard Sipes: You know, so I mean, is it-but a lot of our offenders if not most of our offenders, have kids.

Mark Collins: That’s correct.

Leonard Sipes: All right. When you supervise them, we do the normal supervision things where we go out to their home, where we join with the Metropolitan Police Department and we go to their home in terms of joint visits. In some cases we’ll put on global positioning system tracking devices on them to be sure that they stay away from their victims, you meet with them on a fairly frequent basis, you drug test them on a fairly frequent basis. Tell me about that experience.

Mark Collins: Well the whole experience, I think ever offender is different, every offender needs different services. A lot of offenders do have drug treatment needs, so we don’t want to just address the domestic violence needs-

Leonard Sipes: Oh, thank you for bringing that up, yeah.

Mark Collins: -we’ll address the drug treatment needs. And in Mr. Smith’s case, that was a service that he needed and it was addressed. And now Mr. Smith is drug-free, he understands-and one thing is important that Mr. Smith finally understood and was ready-his stage of change, he was ready to proceed on with his life, he was ready to be drug-free, he was ready to commit to the domestic violence, not just be in the classes, but commit to drug treatment, commit to the domestic violence intervention program. And one thing which is key, is the communication-Mr. Smith as well as other offenders, are very ready to communicate and ready to-I mean, sometimes me and Mr. Smith, we may sit down for a half an hour-

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Mark Collins: -you know, an hour sometimes-we may have a conference with my SCSO. So we just want to make sure that he’s provided-that we can do everything possible so that he can go on and be productive.

Leonard Sipes: And that’s the key issue because I think-I go back to this cultural issue, I think it’s very manly of people like Dennis to look at his set of circumstances, to embrace the help that is there provided to him, and then to make that transformation. I think that that is gutsy; I think that that is manly. Obviously he knows what he did was wrong, but obviously he’s set now-and he was also telling me that he’s now employed as a contractor-

Mark Collins: That’s right.

Leonard Sipes: -as an independent contractor and he’s working on a regular basis. So his life seems to have taken a substantial progress.

Mark Collins: Right.

Leonard Sipes: He’s making substantial progress.

Mark Collins: Major progress, he’s not even the same person that he was-

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Mark Collins: -back in February of ’06, not even the same person, just a totally different person.

Leonard Sipes: But at the beginning, I would imagine most of the offenders or most of the folks who come into our program aren’t that, they need to be restructured-

Mark Collins: Absolutely.

Leonard Sipes: -they need basically a wake up call-

Mark Collins: That’s right.

Leonard Sipes: -that we’re not gonna tolerate domestic violence-

Mark Collins: That’s right.

Leonard Sipes: -and we’re not gonna tolerate as Valerie put it, the larger psychological entrapment that many individuals use over their spouses, use over their significant others. Valerie, correct?

Valerie Collins: Oh, you’re absolutely correct, Mr. Sipes, and it’s because of people like Mr. Collins, their supervision, their extensive training in domestic violence, and using that special supervision to deal with this particular population. Always when they’re coming to the office talk to them about their relationships, doing a check-in with them, making sure that they are using the skills that they have learned in the treatment component. They generally end up completing their far before they complete their supervision.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Valerie Collins: So it really is up to the CSO who has that-

Leonard Sipes: To continue that process.

Valerie Collins: -you know, day-to-day interaction with them-

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Valerie Collins: -who is gonna ensure that they’re using these tools. And so, you know, there’s a lot of services that are available. The CSO, they develop a supervision plan for the offender. A lot of times it is other needs outside of the domestic violence, it may be employment.

Leonard Sipes: Right, it could be anger management-

Valerie Collins: Oh yeah.

Leonard Sipes: -it could be employment-

Valerie Collins: Employment, yes.

Leonard Sipes: -it could be educational-

Valerie Collins: Parenting skills, all types of things.

Leonard Sipes: -vocational, parenting skills, yeah.

Valerie Collins: Yes, and we look at the entire situation for the person.

Leonard Sipes: And you’re also interacting with the family, you’re interacting with the victim?

Valerie Collins: Yes, yes.

Leonard Sipes: Because we are pledged to protect the victim.

Valerie Collins: Right.

Leonard Sipes: And that’s one of the things that we need to bring up in the final minutes of this show-

Valerie Collins: Exactly, yes, right.

Leonard Sipes: -that we work with the victim on a regular basis and we reach out to her principally, or him-

Valerie Collins: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: -and we try to the best of our ability to make sure that they’re protected.

Valerie Collins: Yes, and a lot of the cases, there’s a stay-away order, so we’re mandated to, you know, check in with the victim, ensure that there’s some safety for the victim as well. And we work very closely just in the city in D.C., the United States Attorney’s Office, the Metropolitan Police Department, the Victim Services Unit, even with the court, you know, the D.C Superior Court. Domestic Violence Court-we meet monthly and talk about the issues, so there’s a lot of information sharing. And I believe that also with the success that we’ve been having. I’ve traveled around the country, met a lot of other people who work in various DV programs, and we’re light years ahead in the District of Columbia. And I think that really attributes to our success because we are really working at that coordinated community response.

Leonard Sipes: And that’s one of the nice things that I find within the District of Columbia that you don’t find in lots of other cities-

Valerie Collins: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: -that level of cooperation between we and parole and probation, the Metropolitan Police Department, the United States Attorney’s Office, other federal agencies, I mean, that level of cooperation really is there, and that’s what makes a big difference in terms of our ability to supervise, and if necessary, take action against people who violate the terms of their-

Valerie Collins: Yeah, they go out with the police on the accountability tours-

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Valerie Collins: -so most of them, as Mark probably could tell you, they know the officers and the particular PSA that they work in, so there’s really close collaboration.

Leonard Sipes: And then the officers know that this individual is under supervision for domestic violence-

Valerie Collins: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: -and if they get that call, you get notified.

Valerie Collins: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: So it’s just not an isolated incident, it’s just not, ‘well go ahead and-‘ In the District of Columbia, there’s no longer a walk around the block-

Valerie Collins: No, there’s no walk around the block.

Leonard Sipes: -if you’re involved in domestic violence, you’re arrested.

Valerie Collins: Yes, mandatory arrest.

Leonard Sipes: Yeah, and that is a key issue.

Valerie Collins: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: All right. Thank you both, greatly appreciate you being with us today. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being with us on D.C. Public Safety. Watch for us next time as we explore another very important topic within the criminal justice system. Have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Video Ends]

Meta terms: crime, criminals, criminal justice, parole, probation, prison,
drug treatment, reentry, sex offenders.

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