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«Evaluation of Three Court-Mandated Family Violence Interventions: FVEP, EXPLORE, and EVOLVE Stephen M. Cox, Ph.D. Professor Pierre M. Rivolta, Ph.D. ...»

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Miller et al. (2013, p.1) conducted a meta-analysis of group-based domestic violence interventions that included “11 rigorous evaluations” in an attempt to determine whether these treatment interventions had an effect on domestic violence or any type of recidivism. Six of these interventions followed the Duluth model of treatment; the remaining five comprised an eclectic group of non-Duluth group-treatment modalities. When taken together, the average effect size for these 11 studies was not statistically different from zero, which would indicate that groupbased domestic violence treatment does not affect recidivism for domestic violence offenses, and is therefore ineffective. Only three of the 11 studies included any type of recidivism with only one finding statistically significant positive results (all three did find positive effects sizes).

However, the results changed when separating the treatment modalities based on type of treatment. While the six studies representing the Duluth-type of treatment showed no effect on recidivism, the five studies representing other group-based treatment showed, combined, “a 33% reduction in domestic violence recidivism” (Miller et al., 2013, p.6). These results show that some group-based treatments for domestic violence offenders do reduce recidivism. However, Miller and colleagues warned that the disparity in these treatment approaches did not allow for the determination of which particular intervention was most effective (2013).

Along with that of Miller et al. (2013), the most recent systematic review of batterer treatment programs is that of Arias and colleagues (2013), which included 19 evaluations—13 quasi-experiments and 6 true experiments. The authors considered two types of recidivism measures (official records and couple reports) and various moderators of intervention (e.g., duration of follow-up and type of intervention). Overall, the findings showed that “the treatment Court-Mandated Family Violence Interventions Central Connecticut State University of batterers is not efficacious” (p.159), although some programs showed some success in reducing recidivism.

In trying to explain the lack of success of many batterer treatment interventions, most of which rely on some policy framework, Corvo and colleagues (2008) surmised that it is due to “systematic and institutional proscriptions against using evaluation findings and other pertinent data to develop program innovations” (p.113). Another possible explanation is the favoring of a “one-size-fits-all” approach, when we know that not all family violence offenders are similar in profile (Corvo et al., 2008). Another issue that plagues family violence interventions—and may contribute to their lack of effectiveness—is the relatively high rate of participant dropouts (Chang & Saunders, 2002; Corvo et al., 2008). Indeed, attrition has been characterized as the “bête noire” of family violence interventions (Corvo et al., 2008, p.124).

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The Connecticut Judicial Branch, through its Court Support Services Division (CSSD) funds three court-mandate program options for family violence offenders: FVEP, EXPLORE, and EVOLVE. In addition to these three court-mandated programs, a number of providers and agencies outside of CSSD engage in individual counseling and group work with family violence offenders. This poses a challenge, as no data source to date contains this information.

In addition, and as discussed above, Connecticut is one of six states that do not have standards regarding the treatment of family violence perpetrators. However, it should be emphasized that the Judicial Branch, through its Requests for Proposals (RFPs) maintains requirements (e.g., class details, class policies, agencies, facilitators credentials…) that providers of contracted services must meet when delivering these treatment modalities. These requirements are based on current family violence literature.

Legislation and Process

Family violence is defined under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-38a(1) (2013) and refers to “an incident resulting in physical harm, bodily injury or assault, or an act of threatened violence that constitutes fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury or assault, including, but not limited to, stalking or a pattern of threatening, between family or household members. Verbal abuse or argument shall not constitute family violence unless there is present danger and the likelihood that physical violence will occur.” The following describes the process by which a family violence offender is referred to a particular program following arrest for a family violence incident.

Upon making an arrest the arresting police officer determines if this is a family violence case depending on the offender’s relationship with the victim. Per state statute, offenders in family violence cases must be arraigned within 24 hours of the arrest. At arraignment, the case is referred to CSSD’s Family Services where a Family Relations Counselor identifies risk, recommends services for the offender, and determines the need for a protective order. The Family Relations Counselor makes these recommendations to the Court based on: a criminal background check of the offender, a firearms screen to determine whether the offender has access to firearms, and an offender risk assessment using the Domestic Violence Screening Instrument (DVSI-R)8.

The Family Relations Counselor then recommends to the Court one of three options: (1) continuance of the case for a full assessment (typically 4 to 6 weeks), (2) pretrial supervision for the offender by Family Services (that typically includes participation in the Family Violence Education Program), or (3) to forward the case to the States’ Attorney for prosecution. If this occurs, the State’s Attorney can: prosecute the case based on the charges at arraignment, nolle The DVSI-R is a validated risk instrument used by CSSD to screen all incoming family violence offenders prior to judges issuing court orders. It is an 11-item tool addressing the behavioral history of the offender along with indicators of the offender’s imminent risk of future violence. This tool was created for CSSD by Dr. Kirk Williams and has been validated on several occasions (see Stansfield and Williams, 2014; Williams, 2011; Williams and Grant, 2006).

Court-Mandated Family Violence Interventions Central Connecticut State University the family violence charges and prosecute on other charges, nolle all of the charges including the family violence case, or dismiss some or all charges.

Offenders completing pretrial supervision will likely have their family violence cases nolled or dismissed. Male offenders pleading guilty or convicted of family violence offenses involving an intimate partner may be referred to the EXPLORE or EVOLVE program from judges’ court orders or ordered by probation officers as part of the offender’s probation requirements.

Family Violence Education Program (FVEP)

The FVEP is a 9-week pretrial program that meets once per week for 1.5 hours. The purpose is to educate defendants (male or female) on how violence affects relationships and to provide them with basic interpersonal skills to develop violence-free relationships. The FVEP is currently available in all 20 Connecticut court locations.

The broad parameters of the FVEP are stipulated in Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec 46b-38c(h),

which reads:

(h) (1) There shall be a pretrial family violence education program for persons who are charged with family violence crimes. At a minimum, such program shall inform participants of the basic elements of family violence law and applicable penalties. The court may, in its discretion, invoke such program on motion of the defendant when it finds: (A) That the defendant has not previously been convicted of a family violence crime which occurred on or after October 1, 1986; (B) the defendant has not had a previous case assigned to the family violence education program; (C) the defendant has not previously invoked or accepted accelerated rehabilitation under section 54-56e for a family violence crime which occurred on or after October 1, 1986; and (D) that the defendant is not charged with a class A, class B or class C felony, or an unclassified felony carrying a term of imprisonment of more than ten years, or unless good cause is shown, a class D felony, an unclassified offense carrying a term of imprisonment of more than five years or an offense that involved the infliction of serious physical injury, as defined in section 53a-3. Participation by any person in the accelerated pretrial rehabilitation program under section 54-56e prior to October 1, 1986, shall not prohibit eligibility of such person for the pretrial family violence education program under this section. The court may require that the defendant answer such questions under oath, in open court or before any person designated by the clerk and duly authorized to administer oaths, under the penalties of perjury as will assist the court in making these findings.

(2) The court, on such motion, may refer the defendant to the family violence intervention unit, and may continue the defendant’s case pending the submission of the report of the unit to the court. The court shall also give notice to the victim or victims that the defendant has requested assignment to the family violence education program, and, where possible, give the victim or victims opportunity to be heard. Any defendant who accepts placement in the family violence education program shall agree to the tolling of any statute of limitations with respect to the crime or crimes with which the defendant is charged, and to a waiver of the defendant’s right to a speedy trial. Any such defendant shall appear in court and shall be released to the custody of the family violence Court-Mandated Family Violence Interventions Central Connecticut State University intervention unit for such period, not exceeding two years, and under such conditions as the court shall order. If the defendant refuses to accept, or, having accepted, violates such conditions, the defendant’s case shall be brought to trial. If the defendant satisfactorily completes the family violence education program and complies with the conditions imposed for the period set by the court, the defendant may apply for dismissal of the charges against the defendant and the court, on finding satisfactory compliance, shall dismiss such charges.

(3) Upon dismissal of charges under this subsection, all records of such charges shall be erased pursuant to section 54-142a.

The overall emphasis of the FVEP is to start the process of change by educating participants about the common issues that personal relationships can face. The program does not take a hardline approach that participants are deeply flawed individuals or criminals. Rather, most of the education phase of the program attempts to help participants recognize the challenges they are facing and to understand they are not alone in their struggles.

Once the program discusses how unhealthy relationships can lead to various types of emotional and physical abuse and have detrimental effects on children, participants are encouraged to accept responsibility for their behavior and begin the process of change. It is only then that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is introduced. In this context, CBT emphasizes identifying the cognitive distortions that led to participants’ abusive behavior and provide ways to transform these distortions into healthy, rational, pro-social responses.

In the later sessions of the program, participants are encouraged to develop a plan to correct their behavior and are taught how to put this change into action to achieve a mutually beneficial and healthy relationship with their partner.

A more detailed description of the FVEP program is provided in Appendix A.

EXPLORE EXPLORE is a 26-week 26 session post-conviction and post-plea program for male family violence offenders (1.5 hour sessions, once per week) based on a cognitive behavioral therapeutic framework. Its purpose is to foster behavioral change through developing awareness, building positive interpersonal skills, and promoting an understanding of the harmful effects of family violence on victims and children. EXPLORE was available in 13 court locations until 2012, when it was then placed in all court locations.

Each session starts with a check-in procedure consisting of welcoming newcomers to the group and then asking each member to report on their use of violence, controls, and/or abuse.

Check-in also provides participants with the opportunity to talk about their daily struggles (e.g., stress, relationships, drug/alcohol usage) and how they are applying the knowledge and skills acquired since the last group session. During check-in, group members are also encouraged to challenge each other when using minimization, denial, justification, or externalization of blame for their actions. As such, the intervention relies upon participants’ honesty to share personal information about their personal life.

Court-Mandated Family Violence Interventions Central Connecticut State University Initial sessions lay the framework for the most essential tenets of the program. Legal definitions of family violence and applicable laws are reviewed first. The participants are then broadly educated about the harmfulness and progression of abusive behavior and its various forms. Immediate and simple coping mechanisms are emphasized as ways to break the cycle of violence and take a time-out so that anger does not lead to aggressive behavior.

The next set of sessions focus on cognitive restructuring. In order to initiate behavioral change in participants, cognitive distortions that may have led these individuals to commit domestic violence against their intimate female partner are targeted. The objectives of these sessions are to rebuild trust and establish personal accountability. Once participants accept their responsibility, topics are introduced that inhibit changes in behavior such as utilizing positive self-talk to combat negative thoughts and feelings.

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