This post was written by Admin on January 12, 2009

Earlier this week, Washington State Attorney General McKenna unveiled legislative requests aimed at lengthening the prison sentences for serial domestic abusers.  From his press release:
 “These longer sentences will send a strong message to those who stalk, terrorize and attack innocent women and children that we will no longer offer a painless time-out for the perpetrators of shocking cases of domestic abuse,” McKenna said. “And most important, longer prison terms will provide the victims of abuse with the time they need to rebuild their lives.”
 I teach in a prison setting, and while I don’t disagree with Mr. McKenna on stronger sentences, he misses another key point in the equation–that without education to change the pattern of behavior in these individuals, they will offend again.
 “Painless time out” hits the nail on the head here.  Contrast their sentences with those of Drug Offenders, who are often sentenced to Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA)  programs that work to create new patterns of behavior so that offenders can stay “clean and sober” when they get out.  While corrections makes available complete programs in therapeutic communities for drug offenders, only a few classes such as “Partners in Parenting” and “Stress and Anger Management” are available for domestic violence offenders.
 Of course, part of the problem is money.  In these times, it’s becoming more of a problem.  Last year, Governor Gregoire added $25 million to the states budget for offender education, work release, and other programs geared toward offender re-orientation.  This year, it’s been cut to 12.5 million.  This is causing cuts in courses so that necessary classes for domestic offenders may not even be offered next year.
 Looking at the high cost of incarcerating offenders, the short time periods most of them serve (less than 5 years) and  the current recidivism rate; it’s apparent we can’t afford to just give offenders a “painless time out” without attempting to correct some of the problems that sent them there in the first place. We need to look at formal programs for domestic offenders in the same way as we create programs for Drug and Alcohol offenders.
 We must not only send the message to offenders that the state will not tolerate domestic violence, we must give to them the education, the awareness and the tools that will allow them to make the change as well.