House arrest: One way to help curb domestic violence
While Douglas County seems to be better than the state and the nation in many areas, there is one area where the county appears to be no better than anywhere else.
“Douglas County has so many positive attributes about it,” said East Fork Justice Court Judge Jim EnEarl, “and yet we’re as bad as everyone else with domestic violence. That bothers me.”
The East Fork Justice Court and its Department of Alternative Sentencing, with the help of the Family Support Council and Partnership of Community Resources, are trying to change that.
The court received a $17,500 Violence Against Women grant from the state attorney general’s office, which provides for two ways to help with the problem. The grant money has provided the Department of Alternative Sentencing with electronic monitoring devices for use in house arrest cases, and the grant provides funds for domestic violence offenders to undergo impulse control counseling while in jail – either in county jail or “electronic jail.”
Domestic violence has been an ongoing problem in the county and the United States. It’s generational, said Barbara Ancina of the Family Support Council, and children grow up to model their parents who they saw committing domestic violence. And although substance abuse cannot be blamed for the violence, use of alcohol, methamphetamine or other drugs by either or both the offender and the victim often – or almost always – facilitates the domestic violence.
“Domestic violence has been a problem for years,” said Doug Swalm, chief probation officer of the Department of Alternative Sentencing. “Now we’re getting the tools to try to do something about it, tools like time, energy, counseling, equipment.”
The Department of Alternative Sentencing has just received the equipment involved, which includes seven electronic monitoring units. As conditions of bail, own-recognizance releases or probation, alleged domestic violence offenders are not allowed to have contact with their victims. The electronic-jail house arrest can ensure that.
Offenders wear tamper-proof ankle bracelets with electronic transmitters. If they leave their residences when they are not allowed or if they remove the bracelets, the violation registers at the monitoring company, which notifies Swalm.
Swalm also has a portable monitoring system, which allows him to make sure bracelet wearers are where they are supposed to be. While a wearer is supposed to be at work, Swalm can drive by the company and know whether or not he or she is actually there.
Swalm will be installing most of the systems, but he, Ancina, East Fork Constable Paul Gilbert and Juvenile Probation Officers Lance Crowley and Douglas Albertson were trained Feb. 25 on how to put on the bracelets.
Out of 140 probationers, Swalm currently oversees about 20 which involve domestic violence. Not all of the alleged domestic violence offenders will be candidates for the house arrest program.
While all domestic battery cases are serious, some warrant the house arrest program more than others.
“I don’t mean to minimize any part of domestic violence, but there are different escalations,” EnEarl said. “There’s a difference between the victim having a nick on their finger and spending time in the hospital.”
Now that Swalm has the equipment and the training, he said the first thing he wants to do is meet with the Family Support Council, Partnership of Community Resources, Douglas County Mental Health, the sheriff’s office, East Fork Justice Court and Douglas County District Court, District Attorney’s Office and Juvenile Probation Office to decide what criteria to use when considering alleged offenders for house arrest.
“We will not release a serious and violent offender,” Swalm said.
The house arrest program costs the bracelet wearer $10 a day, and it is not easy. Electronic jail is still jail, but it allows people to maintain employment and add to the support of their families. And while he or she is working, separated from the victim, both people undergo counseling to learn how to create a healthy home environment. Also, they learn to recognize warning signs to help prevent future domestic problems.
“We want to keep families together, not tear them apart,” Ancina said, “but we want to keep them together in a healthy environment.”
EnEarl said the program is experimental, but he is hopeful it will make a difference.
“The experts say if you can separate them, educate them, train them and take away some of the causes of the atmosphere, such as substance abuse, then you have a chance to correct some of their behavior,” EnEarl said. “We’re trying to do those things.”
Tanya Hill, executive director of the Partnership of Community Resources, assisted the East Fork Justice Court in obtaining the grant. The partnership helps various health and human service-related agencies in obtaining money for programs, and Hill said she will continue her involvement with the program. She praised EnEarl and Swalm for trying to address the domestic violence problem in Douglas County.
EnEarl and Swalm feel the same about Hill and the partnership.
“The partnership is positively involved in a lot of aspects of this community,” EnEarl said. “They’ve always been very supportive of our efforts. I can’t say enough good things about the partnership.”
Swalm said he is eager to start the program and optimistic of its outcome.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working with professional people. I hope, as a team, we can intervene into something that is horrible.”
Ancina agrees, saying something needs to be done to try to break the generational cycle domestic violence follows.
“No one has figured out how to cure domestic violence,” she said. “I think what Doug Swalm and Judge EnEarl are trying to do says a lot. They’re trying to find ways to eliminate the problem. This could be a great step in the right direction.”
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