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    Colorado Criminal Domestic Violence Defense – Understanding Terms and Concepts of the Domestic Violence Evaluation and Standards

    The Colorado Domestic Violence Offender Management Board has created standards for the treatment of individuals convicted in Colorado Domestic Violence cases.  Understanding the language of the treatment providers – probation officers – and the court’s will assist and individual who has been ordered to successfully complete domestic violence treatment

    This web page is a summary of the “language, concepts and ideas” behind Colorado domestic violence evaluations and treatment modalities.  Why do I study this stuff and why should you – because if you want to “get out” of the system successfully – you need to understand how these people think!

    From the Resource and Guide to Terms and Concepts of the Pre-Sentence or Post-Sentence Evaluation Standards

    The Concept of Accountability for Acts of Domestic Violence in Colorado

    HMS – This is a key concept in domestic violence probation – holding oneself accountable is the first step in persuading the courts that you should be released from probation.

    What is the Definition of Accountability According to the Therapists?

    Accountability refers to taking full responsibility for the effects of ones actions. In domestic violence intervention there are many aspects of accountability to consider and there are many ways to assess or measure it at various points of treatment.

    For example, accountability includes individual and unilateral responsibility (i.e., taking full unilateral responsibility for the effects of ones own words or actions regardless of the influence of anyone else’s words or actions).

    Accountability can be diminished by unhealthy and self-limiting shame as differentiated from appropriate guilt. Low or limited levels of offender accountability can be correlated to high or extensive risks of offender reoffense.

    Low levels of empathy for the victim can also be correlated to high incidence of recidivism by the offender.

    Assessment of Accountability By The Domestic Violence Therapist

    Accountability can be assessed by considering the following:

    1. Does the offender take responsibility for his/her abusive actions in the police report of the incident? In the victim report? In the other witness report(s)?

    2. Does the offender take responsibility for his/her own actions regardless of the actions of the victim or witness(es)?

    3. Does the offender take responsibility for any other reports of abuse in the relationship? In other relationships?

    4. Is the offender willing to talk in treatment about his/her acts of abuse? Patterns of abuse?

    5. Is the offender willing to write about his/her abusiveness?

    6. Is the offender willing to receive input/feedback/confrontations from the therapist about the abuse? From the group?

    7. Can the offender identify personal deficiencies/challenges/struggles thathave played a role in his/her abusiveness?

    8. Can the offender identify and describe personal tools/strategies/ interventions to be used to prevent future abusiveness?

    9. Is the offender willing to commit to ceasing the abuse?

    The “Measurement” of Domestic Violence Accountability

    Accountability can be measured by the following:

    1. Offender verbal statement of accountability

    2. Offender written statement of accountability

    3. Offender written as-if letter of accountability to the victim. This letter is intended to be a therapeutic exercise and shall not be shared with the victim.

    Accountability is assessed continually:

    1. At intake

    2. Prior to any change in level of treatment

    3. Following any change in risk of reoffense

    4. Prior to discharge from treatment

    Understanding the Role Of The Defendant’s Motivation for Treatment

    The Definition of Motivation for Treatment

    Motivation or readiness for treatment refers to the degree to which an offender engages in the process of change. It includes considerations of how receptive the offender is to learning new information and receiving feedback about his/her behavior.

    Utilizing concepts from the Stages of Change model the process of change occurs through several stages involving different thought processes, emotional responses, and behaviors. Though originally applied to substance abuse treatment, the Stages of Change model has since been applied to domestic violence treatment.

    In domestic violence offender treatment the motivation for change refers to an individuals contemplation of problematic or abusive behaviors, his/her receptivity toward this self-reflection, and the acknowledgement of the benefits of changing behaviors. Thus, self-awareness will increase motivation to change.

    Conversely, the tendency to blame others for ones actions will decrease motivation for change, as others are seen as the real problem.

    The Assessment and Measurement of Levels of Motivation for DV Treatment

    The following are considerations for assessing an offenders level of motivation:

    1. What is the offenders attitude toward treatment? Is he/she compliant? Resistant? Open? Defensive? Dismissing?

    2. How receptive is he/she to learning new information and receiving feedback about his/her behavior?

    3. How willing is he/she to acknowledging and examining the effects of his/her behavior on others?

    4. What is his/her level of personal insight?

    5. Does he/she tend to externalize or blame others for his/her behavior?

    6. Are there factors, such as a significant lack of empathy, which might interfere with a treatment alliance or engagement in the treatment process?

    The following are TOOLS used by therapists for assessing motivation for change:

    1. The Transtheoretical Model (TTM) and the Stages of Change

    2. URICA-DV developed by Levesque utilizes the Stages of Change with domestic violence offenders.

    HMS – In my other research – I learned about the TTM Model for the Stages of Change – Here are the Stages:

    The Stages of Change

    The TTM explains intentional behavior change along a temporal dimension that utilizes both cognitive and performance-based components. Existing research has found that individuals move through a series of stages (pre contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance) in the adoption of healthy behaviors or cessation of unhealthy ones.

    Pre contemplation is the stage in which an individual has no intent to change behavior in the near future, usually measured as the next 6 months. With respect to behavior change,  pre contemplators are characterized as resistant, unmotivated, or demoralized. They tend to avoid information, discussion, or thoughts with regard to changing the targeted health behavior.

    In the contemplation stage individuals express an intention or desire to change without a clear and immediate plan to enact the desired changes.

    They are aware of the benefits of changing, but remain aware of the costs, risks, or drawbacks. Contemplators are often seen as either ambivalent to change or as procrastinators.

    Preparation is the stage in which individuals express a clear intention to change, usually within the next month, and may have begun taking initial steps. Given its shorter time frame, the preparation stage is often viewed as a transition rather than stable stage, with individuals intending to take imminent and concrete steps toward the target goal.

    Action is the stage in which an individual has been making overt and measurable lifestyle changes, typically for a period of less than 6 months.

    Finally, in the maintenance stage, individuals have successfully altered their behavior and may need to take additional steps to prevent relapse and consolidate gains secured during the action stage. Those in maintenance are also distinguishable from those in action in that they tend to report higher levels of self-efficacy and resistance to relapse.

    Approximately a decade ago, several scholars recognized the potential utility of the TTM for understanding the change process in both perpetrators of intimate partner abuse. With respect to perpetrators, the need for greater emphasis on motivation and readiness to change was starkly apparent in the tendency of many perpetrators to deny or minimize personal problems, blame others for their behavioral difficulties, failure to attend court-ordered services, overt resistance to counseling, and noncompliance with directive behavior change interventions.

    The So Called Cycling Doctrine – The Cycle of Violence

    Clinical observations with both victims and perpetrators further revealed frequent cycling through periods of separation and reunification, a steady accrual of negative consequences associated with relationship problems and abuse, and the need for a lengthy period of self-evaluation and support prior to significant life change. Such circumstances resemble the change process facing those with addictions and the challenges of health behavior promotion, both instances in which the TTM had behavior promotion, in which the TTM had been successfully applied.

    Amenability to Treatment In Colorado Domestic Violence Cases.

    The Definition of Amenability to Treatment DV Cases

    Amenability to domestic violence treatment refers to the offenders capacity to effectively participate, function, and understand treatment concepts. Significant cognitive (e.g., thinking) impairments can preclude an individuals ability to sufficiently pay attention during treatment sessions, learn new information, and/or self-reflect. Similarly, some cases of acute mental illness may interfere with participation due to the presence of impaired reality testing (e.g., delusions or hallucinations).

    While some impairments may be the transient effects of medications or some other treatable physiological condition or disease process including mental illness, other conditions may be more longstanding or identified as permanent deficits. Examples of permanent deficits may include mental retardation, dementia, severe learning disabilities, or acquired brain dysfunction. The role of the approved provider is to assess whether the individual has the current capacity to effectively participate in, and benefit from treatment considering these deficits.

    Additionally, the approved provider should identify what limitations exist and distinguish those that require accommodation and those that would indicate a lack of amenability. If the approved provider can accommodate, or refer to an approved provider who can accommodate limitations, the offender is expected to participate in treatment.

    The Criminogenic Needs of The Domestic Violence Treatment Plan

    The Definition of Criminogenic Needs

    Criminogenic needs is a term used to reference offender dynamic factors such as substance abuse (alcohol and other drugs), antisocial attitudes, personality traits, associates, employment, marital and family relationships, and other dynamic variables statistically shown to be correlated with criminal conduct and amenability to change.

    Criminogenic needs are aspects of an offenders situation that when changed are associated with changes in criminal behavior. As dynamic risk factors, criminogenic needs may contribute towards criminal behavior (e.g., domestic violence), and if effectively addressed, should decrease level of risk.

    Non-criminogenic needs are factors that may change but are not empirically related to a reduction in recidivism. Some examples are weight problems, self esteem issues, or witnessing domestic violence as a child.

    Various areas may be assessed to identify an offenders criminogenic needs, including:

    1. Substance abuse

    2. Antisocial attitudes (e.g., minimization, denial, or blaming)

    3. Low levels of satisfaction in marital and family relationships

    4. Antisocial peer associations

    5. Identification and association with antisocial role models

    6. Poor self-control and self-management

    7. Poor problem solving skills

    8. Poor social skills

    9. Unstable living environments

    10. Financial problems

    11. Unemployment

    12. Social isolation

    13. Mental health

    Risk Principle vs Needs Principle in Colorado Domestic Violence Cases


    The risk principle is an endorsement of the premise that criminal behavior is predictable and that treatment services need to be matched to an offenders level of risk. Thus, offenders who present a high risk are those who are targeted for the greatest number of interventions. When offenders are properly screened and matched to appropriate levels of treatment, recidivism is reduced by an average of 25 to 50 percent.

    The needs principle pertains to the importance of targeting criminogenic needs and providing treatment to reduce recidivism. Criminogenic needs/dynamics risk factors are rehabilitative targets for treatment.

    Treatment Considerations – for Risks of Domestic Violence

    Under treatment of high risk offenders and over treatment of low risk offenders is not effective. Therefore, offender risk needs to be matched to the level of treatment interventions. Additionally, when criminogenic needs are addressed in treatment, there is a likelihood of reduction in recidivism.

    Responsivity Principle and Factors

    The Definition of Responsivity

    Responsivity factors are those factors that may influence an individuals responsiveness to efforts that assist in changing his/her attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors. These factors may or may not be offender risk factors or criminogenic needs. These factors play an important role in choosing the type and style of treatment that would be most effective in bringing about change for offenders.   

    Thinking style:

    1. Are they more verbally skilled and quick to comprehend complex ideas or are they more concrete and straightforward in their thought processes?

    2. Will they be more responsive to treatment that requires abstract reasoning skills, or will they be more responsive to more straightforward and direct treatment modalities?

    Anxiety regarding treatment:

    1. Are they more likely to better respond initially to individualize versus group treatment?

    2. Is there some type of acute mental disorder such as delusions or a thought disorder, which may need to be managed in order for offenders to respond to treatment?

    Personality dynamics:

    1. Many individuals with antisocial personality features tend to be more responsive to treatment that is highly structured as opposed to a more process-oriented style. Given a chronic level of low stimulation, such individuals may need a treatment style that is more active and stimulating as opposed to open discussion and quiet readings.

    2. Can reinforcement of changes be emphasized with the narcissistic offender to focus on his/her successes in treatment?

    Can the dependent offender learn to depend more on strategies learned in treatment and depend less on the victim?

    Lethality Assessment


    Lethality assessment is the identification of risk factors that may be linked to intimate partner homicide. Although there are overlapping concerns, risk assessment, lethality assessment, and safety planning are not the same. Victims may or may not be aware of their level of risk. This information can be used to identify potential risk in an offender and for safety planning for victims.

    Assessment of dangerousness or lethality risk of the offender is recommended by most experts.

    Research studies suggest that there are differences in the reasons why men and women kill their intimate partners. There is considerable support for the gender role and self-protection models.

    These models suggest that womens violence is often an outgrowth of the structural inequalities between men and women, and the resulting threat of mens violence against women

    When women kill, it is often in response to physical threat from their male victims.

    Such defensive reactions may be especially common among individuals who lack resources and access to legal responses. Compared to men, women more frequently kill in situations in which their victim initiated the physical aggression.

    The most dramatic differences between homicides by men and women are found when examining the relationship history and situational dynamics leading up to the victims death. Women typically kill intimates-especially male partners with whom they have experienced a long history of violent conflict.

    Assessment and Measurement of Lethality In Colorado Domestic Violence Cases

    The Danger Assessment Instrument created specifically for female victims or Barbara Harts assessment of whether batterers will kill (1990), in addition to other information from multiple sources should be reviewed.

    Treatment Considerations

    1. Safety planning and education regarding risk factors and lethality factors with victims

    2. Ongoing risk assessment from multiple sources

    3. Monitoring for indicators that offender is escalating/de-escalating, decompensating, or becoming more stable

    Other Articles of Interest:

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    H. Michael Steinberg Esq.
    Attorney and Counselor at Law
    The Colorado Criminal Defense Law Firm of H. Michael Steinberg
    A Denver, Colorado Lawyer Focused Exclusively On
    Colorado Criminal Law For Over 40 Years.
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