Webinar presenters Lydia Newlin and Jeri Costa answered a number of your questions after their presentation, “Domestic Violence Post Conviction.” Here are a few of their responses.
Audience Question: What screening tool do you use or do you recommend?
Lydia Newlin: I can speak for Minnesota. We have actually developed our own screening tool and it’s more of an identification screening tool but it’s also a risk assessment screening tool. The reason that we did that is because from a risk assessment standpoint, as far as screening for risk, none of the screening tools that we have been made aware of were developed for our incarcerated population so it does not take into consideration the separation of time that a prisoner from jail does. The screening that we have in my state, which I’m happy to send to anybody, is really more of an identification screening tool. For every new charge, when an offender comes in or a new charge comes against them, we actually utilize some of our voter’s dollars to have screeners that screen for every new charge for every new offender so we know who our population of domestic violence offenders are.
Jeri Costa: The department itself has a risk assessment tool that was developed by the University of Washington and is used for offenders. Unfortunately, it does not give us as much information as you would like on the victim side. We have not yet incorporated a threat assessment into our victim services program. We are looking at that at this time. We’re going over some threat assessment tools that we have been discussing and we are trying to formulate an idea line on what it is going to be.
Audience Question: Do you know what the percentage is of domestic violence offenders who re-offend once they have been released?
Jeri Costa: I don’t have the percentage number but we have so many that do re-offend.
Lydia Newlin: I think what’s important to ask if you are going to ask a state or a jurisdiction for that is are you actually screening for offenders with domestic violence history or are you looking at like that example I gave early on? You have somebody who’s incarcerated for multiple DUI’s or some other offense but actually has a history of domestic violence and is reoffending or being threatening and abusive behaviors to the community and maybe aren’t captured because they weren’t incarcerated for a domestic violence offense. I caution so many of our colleagues about doing this (audio issue)
Jeri Costa: I just want to add. Not only do we have some repeat offenders who have the same victim but I’ve actually worked with a number of victims of the same offender. Their offender has been in and out of our system and gets a new victim. They don’t have the hard numbers I can just tell you anecdotally what I experienced.
Audience Question: How soon should we begin involving the victims prior to the offender being released or really should our interaction ever really stop?
Lydia Newlin: One of the things that you can do is if you have a similar notification system in your state or jurisdiction. In our state that’s what we use to reach back to the victims. So the victims will be sent a notification about the offender’s status and we immediately begin that communication with them provide them some that victim input intake, let them know who we are in our office, what our resources are and start that relationship with them right away. If you don’t have the ability to do that, I would say at least at the point of time that you’re beginning to create those re-entry plans for the offender, try to identify victims and sometimes the best way to do that is really connecting with your victim witness folks in the community. We have developed really amazing relationships with our county attorneys victim witness folks. Also our community-based advocate. They oftentimes can’t tell you they are working with the victim but if you’re working in corrections, you can contact them and say we have an offender who is going out and will be back in your jurisdiction. Just saying, they might be able to reach out to the victim that they are working with and have that individual contact you. There are all kinds of strategies for that that maybe we can do in another webinar.
Audience Question: What wraparound services do you think are most important but are potentially overlooked by corrections or probations professionals?
Jeri Costa: I think we have an awful lot of information that we do not share. Unless your agency has a victim services and is actually available in reaching out or contacting victims who have signed up on the victim notification program, you are missing a lot of people. Oftentimes that they do not know the front end of the system that they should have enrolled in the notification program at the Department of Corrections but it is also the lack of resources or the ability to reach them once an offender is incarcerated. We are missing a lot of people in terms of providing those safety planning services. We also have the issue as I said earlier of the resources and so we’re really targeting resources with the highest risk or the victims feeling the most fear.
Audience Question: Do you have any advice for the folks on the victim-witness side and frankly for any of the different parties involved? How to collaborate with your Department of Corrections or their counterparts?
Jeri Costa: Invite them to, invite your counterparts. If you’ve got training going on, invite them to participate as well not only as presenters but also as participants in the audience. Reach out and invite them to come and give a presentation. Oftentimes I go down to the prosecutor’s office for my job at the Department of Corrections and I’ll often go into the prosecutor’s office and just meet with their staff, a lunchtime meeting we’ll talk about— here’s what victim services are in corrections, here’s how you reach us, here’s the information that you might need to provide. If there are conferences that are going on in your state, send staff to the conferences that they can learn and collaborate that work with each other. It is much easier when we know we talked with the person who will pick up the phone and we follow with up on that.
Lydia Newlin: One of the things that we did is we created something called our post-conviction victim checklist. We have one side of it that’s very specific to probation and one side of it specific to offenders who are going into the prison. We just work with our victim advocates in the prosecutor offices, these are the things that are really important to us when you hand the victim out to us. If you can have this conversation with the victims, we can give some brochures to you. We created that checklist together and right now I’m in the process of kind of creating a guide that goes with that that doesn’t just say talk to the victim about victim input in reentry. But it really locks onto the specific conversation to have with them. Involving them in brochures that are being created and along with the other things that Jeri said is good. People don’t always have time to get training. Have a webinar that they can do or a video about what you can do or what you do in correction for victims that you can get to them for your staff.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of “Domestic Violence Post Conviction.”