Violent Offenders And The Criminal Justice System Criminology Essay

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Violent offenders and the criminal justice system

The criminal justice system can be the first place that a domestic violence offender can receive the help that they need to overcome their abusive behaviors. Many offenders find themselves in the criminal justice system because they cannot control their anger or because of underlying emotional issues due to themselves being victims of abuse as children or young adults. The criminal justice system should have a vested interest in the treatment of these violent individuals to avoid high recidivism rates and to further protect the victims of domestic violence from further violence. By providing treatment programs, the criminal justice system can attempt to return offenders into the community as changed citizens capable of maintaining healthy relationships with their loved ones and provide them with a vastly greater understanding of why they, the offender, act out their aggressions on those they love.

The criminal justice system is also the first step for the victims of domestic violence. They rely on law enforcement, courtrooms, and other legal agencies to help them receive the help that they need to either reconcile their relationships with their abusive partners or to escape those relationships altogether. By providing offender treatment options those seeking to reconcile may find it easier to do so and those seeking escape will find it helpful because they won't have to worry about retaliation from the offender.

Millions of dollars are spent each year on the legal health and welfare services as a result of domestic violence. This money provides assistance to both the offender and the victim and may help train criminal justice professionals the skills they need to provide adequate help to domestic violence participants. Domestic violence perpetrator programs need to effective in order to helpful or no one receives the help they need. These programs also need to convey a sense of justice to the community because domestic violence cannot be seen as a tolerable action. Without the support of the community, resources for such programs would be impossible.

What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence as defined by the Illinois Department of Health, is "the violence that occurs when one person causes physical or psychological harm to a current or former intimate partner"(2005). Domestic violence is more then just a husband hitting his wife. Domestic violence, or intimate partner violence as it is also known, can include the children or other family members of the offender. Also, domestic violence is not limited to physical abuse, although that is the most violent and more likely to lead to the arrest of that individual. Domestic abuse can include psychological abuse as well as physical abuse and that can be just as harmful. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women in the United States and can have an especially negative effect on all family members, especially children (Illinois Department of Public Health[IDPH] 2005).

The public should be concerned about domestic violence because it promotes the idea that women are subordinate to men (Isaacs 2001 p.33). By understanding what domestic violence is the criminal justice system can better fulfill the needs of the victims and the perpetrators and help convey that this type of behavior is not to be condoned. Criminal justice personnel need to understand the signs of abuse, why its caused, and the ways that both victim and offender can be helped. They also need to work together to provide more helpful alternatives for offenders then just a sentence to a correctional facility. Knowing what programs are available in a given area is a helpful first step in providing better domestic violence treatment options for offenders and their families.

Traditional Criminal Justice Reactions to Domestic Violence.

Traditional the police were reluctant to intervene in domestic violence disputes and rarely made an arrest in such offenses. This is because it was usually between married couples and a wife was that man's property to do with as they pleased. Police felt it was not their business and would walk away or just issue a warning. This all changed when an experiment was conducted to see what options worked the best to decrease the incident of domestic violence. This research resulted in many states adopting a mandatory arrest policy. This arrest allowed for traditional criminal sanctions to be assigned and domestic violence is now seen as a legitimate crime that is not tolerated as much as it was in the past.

Today the offender will be charged with domestic abuse and sentenced to probation and/or jail time. A treatment option may be assigned as well which can reduce the sentence or make it less severe. Other options include fines and electronic monitoring, which a form of house arrest. Since taking action against domestic violence may lead to retaliation against the victim, many of the sanctions used by the criminal justice system are not adequate to protect them (Erez, Ibarra, and Lurie 2004).

Because of this it is imperative to provide support for the victims and help them, if they decide that want to, escape the relationship safely. This idea has lead to better support services for victims and has also lead to the idea of having batterer intervention and treatment programs to help end the abuse. Today their isn't a big variety of treatment options for the batterer but hopefully that will increase as the public sees the need for a solution to domestic violence, and not a short-term delay (Erez et. al. 2004).

Why Have Treatment Options?

Most treatment options for the domestic violence offender are voluntary, but some are assigned by the courtroom in addition to a jail or prison sentence. These treatment options still hold the batterer accountable for their actions but help them break the cycle of violence. They may or may not decrease the sentence of the offender or lessen the severity of their offense. These programs are just another way for the offender to receive help to figure out that he/she has a problem that needs to be addressed. Court intervention cannot force an individual to participate, so those who refuse cannot will find themselves without the help they need in regards to their psychological problems. These interventions are seen favorably by the majority of criminal justice professionals and have seen some positive results (Payne 2002).

Although not common knowledge, some view the problems associated with domestic violence as being caused by a mental health issue (Isaacs 2001 p. 31). Something in the offenders' head isn't 'clicking'. If it is indeed a mental health issue it is even more imperative for that individual to receive some sort of help to correct their illogical thought patterns or behaviors. Many may have anger management issues. So just implementing a mandatory arrest policy or minimum sentence guidelines does not provide help to the offender and may cause further damage to the victims, although all types of family violence cases may be diverted from the criminal justice system in place of punishment (Payne 2002).

Types of Treatments Available.

One treatment option is counseling. Counseling does not rule out the possibility of incarceration but moves beyond the idea that just a prison sentence by itself is enough to solve the problem of domestic violence behavior (Isaacs 2001 p. 31). Counseling helps to address the social aspect of these crimes; it emphasizes and promotes the wrongdoing of that particular action. It helps the individual involved to see for themselves that they are responsible for the choices that they make. It works toward a change in the individuals thinking and allows them to see the societal structures that helped them see that way (Isaacs 2001 p.36). It serves to determine the cause of the abuse so that measures can be taken to reduce the likelihood of repetition of the offense. Some underlying causes can be: substance abuse, strained finances, low self-esteem, or a combination of all of those and others. Counseling helps the individual get over denial, trust issues, and help to facilitate with communication, signs of relapse, and even relationship how-tos. This option has had mixed support due to some barriers involving trust. However, this may be overcome by involving the whole family in the counseling process (Payne 2002).

Family counseling can help stop the abuse by allowing the offender to take responsibility for their actions. It also helps to improve familial relationships and reestablish family roles. Some of this counseling is based on the learning theory. This assumes that all family members need to learn new rules of acceptable communication and behavior. Another theory that is used is a patriarchal theory which highlights how confined gender roles promote abuse (Payne 2002). The goal being, of course, is to reduce the likely-hood of further abuse.

An innovative option is lay therapy. It is used to try to relieve stresses to prevent family violence. Other options are education programs such as parenting, communication, and care giver classes. The goals of these programs are to challenge the belief systems and values held by both the offenders and their victims. Another option, home services, help the victim monitor the offender. They reduce the isolation felt by the families and watch for signs of relapse (Payne 2002).

Specific programs.

A unique treatment option in the St. Louis area is the St. Louis Domestic Violence Intervention program (Duffy 2003 p.50). This specialized unit supervises felony and misdemeanor offenders who have been charged with many different violations against an intimate partner, spouse or ex. Since domestic violence incidences may escalate in severity, close supervision is necessary to insure the safety of the victim and the community. This doesn't prevent the offender from receiving treatment, although there are some conditions: the offender may not participate in the intervention program if they have an unaddressed substance abuse issue (Duffy 2003 p.53). According to their website, the program involves more then just anger management: It focuses on the offenders' interpersonal relationships involving their significant others, children, extended family and other household members (Duffy 2003 p.54).

Another program that is available is a non-profit organization called AMEND (Abusive Men Exploring New Directions). This organization provides counseling for abusive males, advocacy and support for their victims, and also help to educate the community about the effects of domestic violence. Their goal is to have the batterer take responsibility for their actions and to make positive changes in their lives. Amend feels that many men place the blame of their violent behaviors on outside influences such as the police or outside influences. These men feel provoked and see nothing wrong with their violent actions (keepmedia 2005). Amend provides treatment on a voluntary basis or at a court-ordered level in the Colorado area but are trying to reach out to other areas to help make a difference.

Emerge is another program that strives to make a difference in batterers and their victims lives. They also employ community education as one of their goals. According to their website,, they were the first abuser education program in the nation( est. 1977). They teach that domestic violence is a learned behavior and share many of the same goals as AMEND, Unlike AMEND, Emerge seeks to root out the cause of domestic violence. Emerge feels that not only is it learned, it can be caused by racism, poverty, homophobia, or past experiences. These programs got it start in Massachusetts, and are becoming more popular. They also have counseling training programs and have an extensive website ( 2005).

Evaluations of Programs.

Does punishment deter behavior? It has been found that recidivism is not affected by sentence length but the type of sanction received. Probation, when combined with a jail sentence, has a lower recidivism rate when compared with a fine alone, probation alone, or jail alone. No single treatment option has been found to be proven effective in regards to recidivism, yet there has been a rapid increase in the growth of such programs. Police response, mandatory arrest, victimless prosecution and longer sentence terms have all seen persistent lobbying by the domestic violence movement, the call for more varied treatment options however has been at a relative standstill ( Babcock 2000). Most programs do not help the victim of the offense, although there are programs available if the victim can escape the abuse. The focus on the perpetrator is in a hope of deterring further assault. When helpful programs fail to work or the offender fails to utilize them the chances of the victim being abused again are high, many states (about 40) have adopted laws stating that judges can order batterers from the victims home with out incarceration.

Removing the offender from the home may prevent the victim's untimely death but may be traumatic for the victims, especially children. This option is not always permanent and does not ensure that the offender will not return anyways. Although some feel that domestic violence offenders are a treatment resistant population, not offering treatment, in addition to removal, does not solve the problems associated with domestic violence. The goal of batterer treatment programs is to reduce the violence directed at women and others. The best way to insure this is to make sure states are offering the most effective and up to date intervention approaches as possible.

Another issue of treatment programs are their costs. This is not a problem because, for the most part, the costs are bourne by the batterer taking into account their financial status. The support of intervention programs have come under fire because of cost issues. Battered women advocates, program proponents, and program funders all wrongly argue over the assumed costs. Some believe that these programs divert funds from much needed battered women's services. Proponent's cite the relatively low cost of intervention programs, saying that because of this the programs deserve more financial aid since the cost is bourne by the offender. The costs of these programs are much lower then the traditional criminal justice sanctions and do not rely on money provided by taxpayers( Snow 2000).

It is hard to say whether or not treatment and intervention programs are really working. If the batterer really wants help he/she will receive and benefit from it but you can't force participation and treatment is not going to work if that individual refuses to help themselves. Gauging whether or not an offender will repeat the abuse (recidivate) is also a difficult question to ask. This is because this type of violence is difficult to track. It is often under-reported to police due to the victim fearing retaliation or humiliation. Physical violence can only be measured when an arrest is made and if the victim is not going to call the police there is little hope for intervention. Verbal and emotional violence is very hard to gauge and so the likelihood of recidivism could be high (Snow 2000).


While treatment and rehabilitation seem to be a viable solution to the problem of domestic violence, there are many hurdles such programs have to overcome before they are accepted by most criminal justice professionals. Both the community and criminal justice professionals are apprehensive about the results of such programs and are unwilling to accept them as an acceptable means to solve the problem of domestic violence. Myths about cost concerns are also a barrier to the successfulness of such programs. These myths about regarding treatment programs will have to be resolved before better and more varied programs are made available for batterers and their victims.



Duffy, M. And Nolan, A.S. (2003). "Addressing issues of domestic violence through community supervision of offenders". Corrections Today, vol. 65 no. 1 (Feb 2003): p. 50-53.

Erez, E., Ibarra, P.R., and Lurie, N.A.(2004). "Electronic Monitoring of Domestic Violence Cases-A Study of Two Bilateral Programs". Federal Probation, vol. 68 no. 1 (Jun 2004): p. 15-20.

Isaacs, T.(2001). "Domestic Violence and Hate Crimes: Acknowledging Two Levels of Responsibility". Criminal Justice Ethics, (Summer/Fall 2001): p. 31-43.

Lee, M.Y., et. al.(2004). "Accountability for Change: Solution-Focused Treatment With Domestic Violence Offenders". Families in Society, vol. 85 no. 4 (Oct/Dec 2004): p. 463-76.

Snow, A.(2000). "The cost of batterer programs: How much and who pays?". Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 15 no. 6 (Jun 2000): p. 566-586.


Babcock, J.C. and La Taillade, J.J.(2000). "Evaluating Interventions for Men Who Batter". In J.P. Vincent and E.N. Jourilles' (eds) Domestic Violence: Guidelines for Research-Informed Practice. London, England: Jessica Kingsley Publishers Ltd.

Payne, B.K., and Gainey, R.(2002). Family Violence and Criminal Justice: A Life-Course Approach. Cinncinatti, OH: Anderson Pub. Co.