Webinar presenters Judge Brandon Birmingham and Dr. Jill Johansson-Love answered a number of your questions after their presentation, An Approach to High Lethality Domestic Violence Offenders: The Accountability Court Model. Here are just a few of their responses.
Audience Question: If you could quickly just restate again what the acronym FDVC and BIPP, what are that 2 acronyms stand for again, please?
Dr. Jill Johansson-Love: So FDVC is the Felony Domestic Violence Court Program. So that is the specialty court main of our accountability court. And BIPP I know in other jurisdictions is BIP but it stands for Batterers Intervention and Prevention Program.
Audience Question: When a person is classified as a high lethality offender are you unable to remove their firearms for a period of time like when they’re on probation? How does that work
Judge Brandon Birmingham: I can as a condition of probation remove and tell them not to have any firearms. You know it presents a very very interesting and hard topic because I suspect but unless I went barging in all of my probationer’s homes, I suspect that they might have a firearm, for example on the night of the offense. I know that by the time that they’re placed on probation, that might be a year, but I know I can order them not to have firearms. If I catch them with one that’s a violation of their probation. the problem is always catching them with one. So that presents one of the problems. In Texas, once they’re placed on probation, if the court makes an affirmative finding of family violence, in other words, recognizing that the charge that they’re placed on probation for is one that involves family violence or intimate partner domestic violence, then that means by law in Texas at least, they’re not allowed to have a firearm. I’m sure that the other jurisdictions have very similar statutes on the book.
Audience Question: Have you all seen a correlation of animal abuse and high lethality domestic violence cases?
Dr. Jill Johansson-Love: I think it’s an understudied area. So I think we definitely need more research there. And as a researcher myself, I can see the problem with this and I think we can all kind of relate to the potential issues with time to study that. I would definitely say yes that’s problematic behavior they abuse animals because they will move to whatever’s going to control or get their wanted effect on the victim. So if they don’t get that from beating the victim anymore then they’ll move to a loved pet or child or an elderly parent or somebody else. So, obviously, that’s an escalation and a problem behavior. I think we’re not quite there with the research just because when a homicide occurs, asking what actually happened to Fido or Fluffy is not as a forefront of investigator’s mind so I think we have a lot of lack of data collected on what actually happened to the pets once we have the homicide occurring or in instances of when the offender take out the whole family and themselves then people may not even know what is going on with any pets or if something happened to the pets ahead of that homicide.
Audience Question: You talked about a number of signs at the beginning of your presentation. Would one of the signs include screaming at and degrading the person in public?
Dr. Jill Johansson-Love: So any kind of public humiliation is obviously an escalation, right? Because again, you are no longer concerned with actually being caught for abusive behavior. Unfortunately in the criminal justice system we are focusing a lot on physical violence and maybe not the psychological abuse that is also occurring in the household and that is definitely establishing just as much control and some times more than the physical violence but it is obviously very difficult to prove the effects of that and it’s much easier to prove the effects of physical violence in a courtroom. But yeah, very much public kind of humiliation is revving up the risk for sure. I had one example of an offender I assessed early on that was high lethality risk. He thought it was appropriate to yank the weave out of his girlfriend’s head in the mall in public because he paid for it and he was going to humiliate her by yanking it out of her head in public. So yes.
Audience Question: Is instrumental the same as predatory violence and reactive is the same as effective violence?
Dr. Jill Johansson-Love: Yes. They’re very, very similar so yes, predatory violence and instrumental, same. And effective and reactive, yes, emotional reactions to violence.
One way I can illustrate a kind of domestic violence being instrumental and predatory. I walked thru a waiting room one day before I was going to assess a high lethality offender which I already knew was a high lethality based on all the records I had on him. And I saw a very attractive young female sitting in the waiting room and when I went to pick him up, he returned a pen to a front desk clerk and I just knew he had gotten this girl’s number. So I asked him, “Can you throw away that phone number please?” And he said, “What are you talking about?” “Well, you got that girl’s phone number who’s sitting on the waiting room, right?” “How on earth do you know that?” “Well, you did, didn’t you?” And I said, “How old is she?” “Well, she’s 20.” “And how old are you?” “Forty-five.” And I said, “Okay, so how quickly do you think you’re going to be in trouble?” And then he told me, “Well, nobody will believe her anyway because she has mental health issues.”
So that’s very predatory behavior and not all of them are that predatory. But he saw her for a couple of minutes in the waiting room and he had already established this how he was going to get out of trouble. He had already seen her weaknesses and had already identified her as an easy target.
Audience Question: What percentage of DV offenders qualify for your program and how many do you subfactors, based after that.
Dr. Jill Johansson-Love: At this point, part of the actual program is kind of two separate parts it’s the court program and then it’s the assessment part. So, the assessment we screen in about 300 a year in Dallas for the specialized domestic violence assessment. So, that will inform the court of jurisdiction of the lethality risk but they will be informed pre-sentence. So not all those offenders are going to end up on probation and we’re hopeful that this is informing some of the sentencing decisions that the judges make. And then there is a percentage of those who are referred, then 2 are court program and like I said there’s a percentage that gets placed on regular probation by their court of original jurisdiction. The capacity for the court right now is a max of a hundred and we’re not at capacity at this point.
Audience Question: We had a couple of questions in regard to the instrument, the tool that you use. What is the name of the assessment that you use?
Dr. Jill Johansson-Love: Danger Assessment and you can find it at dangerassessment.org. It’s $125 to be certified to administer that measure.
Audience Question: Is the tool validated this for any points along the criminal justice systems such as pre-trial, post judication, that sort of thing?
Dr. Jill Johansson-Love: As I indicated during our presentation this measure is used with victims at any point and it usually comes along with a calendar. The way we’re using it is using with the offender. So, that per se has not been validated. So, that is what I’m hoping to do and it also the part of the reason for collecting all of this information. However, this instrument in itself has very rigorous validation of the actual risk items and Dr. Tambal actually used a control group of victims who were murdered compared to attempted domestic violence homicide, compared to just battering violence with no kind of lethal violence involved and those 3 groups were compared to actually highlight which one factored in to the lethality aspects of it.
Audience Question: How much longer is your BIPP in comparison to the standard programming?
Dr. Jill Johansson-Love: It would vary because we do make adjustments based on the individual offenders’ needs but it’s at least about 8 weeks longer right now compared to the normal standard around here. But then it can be extended depending on what’s going on with the individual offender. We have had offenders that violated, went away for maybe drug treatment and then had to restart this because they never completed it and the BIPP writer informed the court team that this person didn’t really progress in the BIPP group and therefore should be restarted. So that’s a little bit of a tricky question and I would just encourage anyone who is a BIPP provider to communicate with the court. That is something that Judge Birmingham and I actually trained a group of BIPP providers on not too long ago, is you have to give information to court if you don’t think this person is progressing. That’s what you ask the BIPP provider need to tell the judge because if you don’t the judge is going to assume that the person is progressing.
Audience Question: How many Domestic Violence offenders do you evaluate on a weekly and/or monthly basis?
Dr. Jill Johansson-Love: That’s also a little bit tricky because we evaluate obviously more domestic violence offenders than screen-in. So, we do screen-in about 300 high lethality offenders a year. We do evaluate more than that at any given time, we have about 2000 domestic violence offenders on probation and those are the ones who are actually flagged as domestic violence offenders. A lot of times what we discover in our screening process is that we do screen-in offenders where actual charge may not be a domestic violence charge but it was a domestic violence incident but maybe the incident didn’t trump the possession charge that was going on at the same time and now the charge as filed is the possession charge but there was the domestic violence dynamic going on then we would still screen those in.
Audience Question: Is the BIPP program free of charge?
Dr. Jill Johansson-Love: No. It’s not. Luckily for us, our providers work with us. I know we have had different kinds of funding at various times to assist with indigent offenders and this is just my 2 cents for anyone who’s trying to establish this type of court. You do have to count where how you’re going to pay for the offenders who claim they’re indigent in order to protect the victim. Both to make them participate in this as well as any kind of GPS monitoring because you can’t let them not do it just because they can’t pay because now, you’re risking the victim and the community’s safety. So we have had different efforts. The DA’s office had some funding and was able to get reduced cost for some of our qualifying offenders and also our BIPP Provider was able to secure some state fundings that was able to pay for some of our indigent offenders.
Audience Question: Was money required to begin the accountability court and if so, how did you get that funding?
Dr. Jill Johansson-Love: I personally started doing these assessments in 2011. And I was the only one doing them and then I only did it for 1 judge and his courtroom whenever we thought we could… basically. So we started small in order to kind of get some local validation of what we were trying to accomplish but then, after applying I was able to secure Wawa funding, through some grants through our governor’s office and we are now hopefully moving in to our 6th year of actually having funding and that’s when we were able to establish the actual court and actually open it up to all of the felony court judges.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of An Approach to High Lethality Domestic Violence Offenders: The Accountability Court Model.