Grant saves program to rehabilitate batterers

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — A program that helps batterers change their behavior is out of financial danger.

After the loss of a state grant in July 2008, the Men Employing Non-Violent Directives, or MEND program, recently received a Services Training Officers Prosecutors (STOP) grant of about $47,000. The grant was awarded to Division 11 Judge Deborah Daniels in December 2008. All funds from the grant were given to the Family Counseling Center of Missouri in January 2009 to help support counseling services.

Domestic Violence Court

Judge Deborah Daniels implemented the domestic violence docket in September 2008 as a way to improve continuity in the handling of domestic violence cases.

The docket came about through conversations between Daniels, private attorneys, the public defender's office and the prosecuting ottorney's office.

Before the domestic violence court was created, Daniels noticed that cases were distributed among different judges. Not having a single judge responsible for the cases was making it hard for judges to give defendants and attorneys positive feedback about such things as participation in programs like MEND.

The new docket allows the prosecuting attorney and public defender to both be present in court, improving communication about particular cases.

Daniels said having all domestic violence cases come into one court helps everyone involved: “With the consolidation of the division, I’m working hard to let (offenders) hear from the court when they’re doing things right.”

The court deals with a variety of domestic assault cases that might go against conventional wisdom about domestic violence. "It's just not the boyfriend-girlfriend (relationship), it's all sorts," Daniels said. "The intervention of the criminal court does not change the existence of the relationship.”

Daniels stays on top of cases involving follow-up with the men after they’ve completed the MEND program. “I’ve been sending letters to congratulate them on successful completion of the course,” she said.



Ted Solomon, outpatient program director at the Family Counseling Center, sees the benefit of the funding in helping Columbia as a whole. "Kids are traumatized by violence, victims are traumatized by violence, and it has a terrible effect on the men, too," Solomon said. "We're just trying to get people to be non-violent emotionally and physically and to see the value in that." 

He said there is a “major wait list” of at least 50 men for the MEND program. Most of the men are referred by the Boone County Circuit Court, but there are other participants. "Occasionally we get some from other states, and occasionally we get volunteers," Solomon said, defining volunteers as men who enroll in the program but not because of a legal problem.

The program is based on the Duluth Model for batterers' treatment. The model focuses on treatment for male batterers through cognitive behavior therapy and involvement from the judicial system and the community.

The Center counsels men in three groups; each has a 15-member cap. Classes meet for 27 weeks at $40 per group meeting. There is also an introductory appointment fee of $20 where men fill out paperwork and rules are explained. The program's total cost is $1,100.

When the program’s funding problems were worst, the Center had to eliminate its sliding scale for payment. Offenders taking part in the program were not the only ones affected. “Victims would say ‘I want him to get help, but I have to pay for this. I can’t afford this,'" Solomon said.

The program's financial picture has changed for the better.

The Center now has returned to a sliding scale payment system, taking into consideration a participant's income and family size. Participants end up paying between $10 and $40. The $20 orientation fee is not covered. 

Solomon and Daniels are both part of a team effort to curb domestic violence in Columbia. The team includes the Domestic Violence Enforcement (DOVE) unit of the Columbia Police Department, the prosecuting attorney’s office and the Missouri Board of Probation and Parole.

“Simply sending the person to jail does not always change behavior,” said Daniels, who implemented the domestic violence docket in Boone County Circuit Court in 2008. “What I see over and over is that there are consequences that can be attached to behavior that are more effective in changing behavior.”

Communication between the organizations that work with batterers and victims has been the key to developing the program.“Feedback from probation officers and prosecutors and the women’s shelter about what they want from our program has helped shape our program,” Solomon said.

Some police officers doubt the effectiveness of the MEND program in keeping batterers from abusing partners again, Solomon said. “Anybody who sees this over and over again in the same place is going to think this is never going to change,” he said.

Missouri regulations for domestic abuse cases prevent the Center from contacting the victims to find out how batterers are doing. So to keep track of a participant’s progress, Solomon and his team communicate with the parole board and prosecutors as well as checking arrest reports regularly. 

Numbers calculated for MEND from its beginning in October 2006 until October 2008 show that of the 104 men who have completed the program, only 4 percent committed domestic assaults after completion.

Solomon has not had time to look at exact numbers, but the effects of the program are clear to him. "The longer someone attended our program, the less likely they were to reoffend and get arrested for it."

The numbers do not include unreported offenses, which the Center does not have the means to track.

He has also seen the program's positive effects in other more personal ways. He gave the example of a counselor who saw a former MEND participant in the store with his wife. The wife went out of her way to thank the counselor for all the Center had done to help her family.

"(Our programs) don’t fix situations, but they give people opportunities to think … to re-evaluate who they are,” Solomon said. "That’s what our program does."

Daniels also recognizes the team effort in running a successful domestic violence program in Columbia. “(It’s) people looking at the situation trying to find a way for the system to work better … for all of Boone County.”


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