We need programs like this all over the country!
Wayne County expands required program to include first-time offenders
Norman Sinclair / The Detroit News
DETROIT -- Wayne County plans to target first-time domestic abusers by expanding a jail counseling program that has already produced results in violent inmates.
Under the expansion, first-time or misdemeanor domestic violence offenders will be required to undergo intense counseling for up to six months after their release.
"Domestic violence usually escalates from incident to incident. That's how the offender tries to keep control," Sheriff Warren Evans said. "By stepping in after the first known offense and establishing some control of our own, we are more likely to change the offender's thought process and help them resolve their emotions without resorting to violence."
The effort is in response to the rising number of domestic homicides in Michigan, which jumped 74 percent from 2004 to 2005, according to the most recent data available.
Since 2000, 5 percent of 565 Wayne County domestic violence offenders who entered the program committed another offense, Evans said.
Of the 490 offenders who completed all requirements of the counseling program, including the community-based portion after release, only 2 percent have had another violent complaint against them.
"It is a triumph for a program like this to materialize," said Wayne County Commissioner Bernard Parker.
"I have long been an advocate of prevention over punishment, and I believe that early intervention can prevent future violence from occurring."
Under the expansion, an additional 150 inmates will enter the program annually, Evans said.
"Physical and emotional abuse, like many behavioral problems, is more effectively treated if you address it earlier and in a substantive way," Evans said.
"Expanding our support services to first-time misdemeanants who are just beginning to demonstrate abusive behavior is our best chance at preventing future tragedy."
Alfonzo McKay said the program has turned his life around.
McKay, 40, of Detroit, was arrested 10 years ago on domestic violence charges, went to jail, served his time and was rearrested for the same offense last year.
This time, however, he enrolled in the jail domestic violence program. And he credits his experience with making him a productive citizen.
"It helped me change my way of thinking," he said. "It gave me the tools to understand that I didn't have to put my hands on someone with whom I have a disagreement. It makes you responsible for your actions."
McKay said working with the counselors gave him a sense of teamwork.
"Everybody wants to help each other," he said. "Working with a group in the jail, we found out that when we get outside, by keeping in touch, we are able to keep each other on an even keel and give each other support."
The in-jail program requires inmates to attend 15 classroom sessions, held each day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. with homework assignments every night. Upon release, they are required to attend follow-up programs for either 12 or 26 weeks, depending on the length of their sentence. Inmates who complete the in-jail portion of the program can earn a sentence reduction, if they agree to the follow-up sessions when they are released.
"Understanding the tremendous impact that domestic violence has on the stability of families and the lives of our children, the Department of Children and Family Services has committed resources to this initiative since 2003," said Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano.
Those who fail to follow through after their release will be arrested and returned to the jail to complete the time on their sentences.
In addition to money from the county, funding comes from proceeds from the sale of items to inmates such as socks, underwear, toiletries and other supplies. The counseling is done by Education Training Research Services, a privately owned company that provides court-ordered rehabilitative services in Metro Detroit.
You can reach Norman Sinclair at (313) 222-2034 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Jeanette Stingley - Domestic Violence and Women's Lit Editor