When it comes to people accused of domestic violence, police and courts tend to see the same men and women over and over again—often with a revolving set of victims.
Photo by Courtesy Flickr/Louise Boyle Collection
When it comes to people accused of domestic violence, police and courts tend to see the same men and women over and over again—often with a revolving set of victims. That has changed in Clinton, however, since the judicial system embraced a batterer's intervention program in 2010.
Today, instead of automatically sending offenders to jail or anger-management classes, neither of which made much of a difference, judges sentence the men and women accused of misdemeanor domestic violence to a BIP program run by the Center for Violence Prevention in Pearl. That program has cut the city's domestic violence numbers dramatically, by as much as half in the nearly two years of operation in Clinton.
"They're seeing no recidivisim, no repeat offenders," said Sandy Middleton, executive director of the center.
The Clinton intervention class currently has about 15 men, and about four or five women in another class. Batterers who complete the program don't show up again in the court. Before the program, the same men and women would be charged repeatedly.
"I would say it's less than 1 percent," Middleton said about repeat offenders.
Middleton stressed that domestic violence is not a crime resulting from anger, which is why anger-management programs rarely work. Instead it is a crime of power, control and manipulation. "The key is to change their behavior," she said.
On the other side of the equation, the center also works with victims, providing support and counseling to rebuild lives often shattered by violence.
Tamra Morgan, who took Middleton's class on victimology at Mississippi College in the fall of 2010, deserves the credit for bringing the program into Clinton. Morgan is the court administrator at the Clinton Municipal Court, and she was completing her bachelor's degree in sociology when she took Middleton's class as an elective. It started a long conversation and relationship with Middleton and the center aimed at curbing domestic violence.
Morgan told the judges and prosecutors in Clinton--who knew their solutions at the time weren't working--about the center's batterer intervention program, and they gave her the OK to make it happen. Today, the court has one day every week to hear DV cases, and the numbers are constantly shrinking.
"You ask the question of whether one person can make a difference, she went back to her court and said, 'We're going to do this,'" Middleton said. "... She was just determined to make it work."
Middleton also credits Steven Boone, the city prosecutor, and the judges for making the program work. They get it, she said. The BIP program helps offenders change core beliefs about relationships and their roles in them, empowering them to make fundamental changes in their behavior.
"When these offenders are sent to the program, the court stands behind it," Middleton said. Offenders know they'll be serving their sentences in jail if they don't complete the 24-week program, which they pay for at the rate of $25 per week, giving them motivation and a personal investment in the program. "There are some teeth behind it," she said.