One-trick sentences foolish |

One-trick sentences foolish

Matt Zalaznick

The crime “domestic violence” means everything from obnoxious phone calls to shoving to beating one’s spouse to a bloody pulp. Aside from jail and prison sentences, a big part of the punishment judges impose on men and woman convicted of domestic violence crimes are anger management classes. Until recently, judges had narrow leeway on the length of those classes: a single session for minor offenders or nine months of Saturdays for the rest. Now, only the nine-month option is left. The previous 1-or-9 system seemed a little too black-and-white. But the change, which leaves non-violent domestic offenders open to a sort of tyranny, is going backward. Make an angry phone call or throw a dish at the wall, and spend most of a year going to classes with guys and gals who broke their spouses’ jaws? Doesn’t seem to make any sense. If anything, nine months of anger management could breed more fury in someone who already has problems managing their temper. Judges and prosecuted should have the same leeway in anger management as they have in crafting sentences based on the severity of the crime. There are suspended sentences, probation, jail or prison time – different levels of prison, even – but just nine months of anger management. A good comparison is drunken driving, another crime that can result in serious injury and death. District Attorney Mark Hurlbert says he has more options in punishing drunken drivers, “a continuum of treatment,” as he puts it. Therapist Jim Eaton, who used to teach the one-day anger management classes in this area, said he had authority to judge, after a single session, whether a participant needed more counseling. This is a good model that should be expanded on. Instead of just nine months, perhaps there should be a graduated scale. Violent offenders, those who injure spouses, should continue to get the full course, no questions asked. But less serious offenders – the car-key confiscators, sock throwers and wrist grabbers – should attend classes until therapists, prosecutors and the judge is satisfied. If a person seems to have benefited from one day, encourage them to come back but don’t batter them with extraneous counseling just so the justice system can feel like it’s paying attention. Blanket policies ignore nuance, personalities and contrition. Attention to detail will be in the best interests of everyone: the justice system, the convict and the victim. Even DA Hurlbert says anger management, if overdone, can make the offender even angrier at the victim, thus increasing the danger of more violence. That is not anybody’s goal. Vail, Colorado

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