Predicting violence: the psychology of bail and alternatives to incarceration

WESTBOROUGH, MA July 19, 2016 The Worcester Telegram published the story of a case of domestic violence that occurred in that central Massachusetts city of 185,000.  A police officer was dispatched to a residence where a subject was suspected of violating the terms of a restraining order.  RO’s – as they are commonly referred to – offer a safety net between the victim of domestic violence and the abuser.  RO’s are authorized by a district court judge who is on call night and day. They are not authorized unless substantial threat to the victim exists.  These orders are carefully crafted by investigating police officers whose reports highlight the exact nature of the violence and the reason the victim needs protection.  Protection orders are offered to the victim after the first sign of physical violence. It has been espoused that the police are not called until after the 6th or 7th episode of domestic violence.  DV is a secret affair between members of a family who are often ashamed or embarrassed to come forward for help often until things gradually get worse – sometimes years into a pattern of violent dysfunction. Greater latitude for judges in handling violent offenders must be legislated including holding someone without bail.  This rarely takes place due to the fact that so many abusers are law abiding citizens and have no record against which to negotiate bail. Arguably, at some point violent spouses must be held for the safety of the victim and her children as in the case of Jared Remy in 2013. Remy killed his live-in girlfriend Jennifer Martell in front of the couple’s 4-year old daughter hours after being released from custody for violating an order of protection.

In other cases of violence against the police, noncompliant behavior that results in violence toward police officers must be dealt with in kind including no bail holds, dangerousness assessments and GPS monitoring for those who may be released. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.  In Massachusetts one police officer lost his life because a career criminal was repeatedly released on no or low bail.  Auburn Police Officer Ron Tarentino paid the ultimate price in exactly such a case.

“Hindsight tells us that this guy should have stayed in jail. Maybe, if the court had had more time to spend on the case, that would have happened. However, we can’t generalize from this case to all cases, according to Vic Crain, a New Jersey-based Market Research and Public Policy firm.” Vic Crain, personal correspondence July 2016.

im_cycle
Cycle of abuse in domestic violence is well described – TAKEN 2016

On this day, a Worcester police officer was cut with a steak knife wielded by the angry spouse who was being arrested for violation of the stay away order. Bail conditions must be carefully considered whenever a restraining order is violated. It is a sign that the alleged perpetrator has blatantly ignored a legal court order by contacting his partner in some way – even by telephone or via social media. He need not be menacing against his spouse and family. Violation of an RO may signal an outright decline in the violator’s coping skill and perhaps an ominous sign of impending terminal rage toward a spouse.  Terminal rage results in a loss of self control along with an erupting emotional maelstrom of blame and hate – sometimes resulting in a fugue state. Episodes of terminal anger will last just so long and ultimately results in the self-destruction of the abuser.  The cycle of abuse in DV is well described by Lenore Walker and is depicted to the right.

In Gardner, MA on 7-19-16, a North Carolina man was charged with burning two vehicles and menacing his ex-wife with a shotgun. He is being held without bail until a hearing can be held to determine if he is dangerous and should be kept behind bars according to the Worcester Telegram story. The Worcester case resulted in charges of violation of restraining order, mayhem, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and attempted murder.  A Worcester Police Officer was severely cut with a knife during the violent arrest.

Decisions on bail of the two cases described are straight forward and no bail was allowed in either until such time as the court psychiatrist or psychologist was able to assess dangerousness.  This is where society needs to begin the change in expectations for those involved in DV – measuring dangerousness.  The measurement of dangerousness can be nebulous and forensically uncertain.

In August 2013 I published a blog after the death of Jennifer Martell who was murdered in front of her 4-year old daughter by Jared Remy, son of Red Sox broadcaster and former player Jerry Remy.  The younger Remy had received one break after another some say linked to his celebrity father’s influence.  He was never held until a dangerousness hearing could be undertaken.  Had this been done Ms. Martell may be alive today. In retrospect, Jared Remy was a prototypic abuser and ultimately Ms Martell was left unprotected when he should have been behind bars. Whether or not he had bipolar illness, abused drugs – including steroids or likely both Jennifer was no match when Remy launched his fatal attack.  But all who know Jared say he loved Jennifer Martell and his daughter.

I have answered calls like these and they are mostly the same. I am trained to look for “red flag signs of violence” that would automatically raised my level of concern. Unfortunately there are people who believe intimate partner violence is nobody’s business.  That belief system is harmful. Slowly people are learning that secret violence robs our society of its civility.  My police report in all cases would specify the immediate need for a dangerousness hearing – especially when there had been more than one prior order of protection and violating an existing order of protection.  Other facts such as substance abuse, loss of job, a blended household, pregnancy and the lack of transportation add to the risks of leaving a violence man in the household.

The reporting party in a recent case had been threatened by the spouse.  These verbal threats began as soon “as I said I do”with slight humor.  The physical abuse began shortly thereafter. On this day he was angry at his wife wife who had spent the day with her sister and had arrived home the same time as her husband.  Dinner was not ready.  This led to a significant escalation of his baseline level of anger, suspiciousness and borderline paranoia by the time police were called.  He had thrown the dishes all over the kitchen and dining room out of protest – lamenting his lazy wife.  His children were frightened and crying.

The signs of violence are finger marks on the neck from choking, forced intercourse, obvious trauma from open or closed fists, threats of death or some other random act of stupidity toward a spouse that leaves her and her children in great fear.  Any of these should result in arrest.

Research is clear that separating spouses for the night does not positively impact the level aggression and risk in the household as much as the formal arrest of the aggressor.  What usually happens is the police break up the fighting couple by sending the aggressor off to the home of a friend or family member – less often to jail unless there are obvious signs of abuse. Arrest is mandated by law when physical signs of abuse are apparent. It has become all too often the case that hindsight – taken seriously – may have saved a life.

There needs to be a clear consequence for the violation of a protection order – and yet violent abusers are given chance after chance as in the case of Jared Remy.  In the research I conducted with 3 colleagues – cited below – failure to hold a spouse when there are numerous red flag warnings. In this case, after holding his family hostage for 3 hours at gun point, a reluctant and frightened spouse called the local sheriff’s department.  Patrols found the perpetrator who remarked to his son “your mother has done it this time…” as the blue light were activated.  He later went on to murder his wife and his two children – including the boy mentioned in this post.

REFERENCES

  1. Allanach, R.A., Gagan, B.F., Loughlin, J., Sefton, M.S., (2011). The Psychological Autopsy of the Dexter, Maine Domestic Violence Homicide and Suicide. Presented to the Domestic Violence Review Board, November 11, 2011
  2. Crain, Vic (2016) personal correspondance, “Hindsight shows us this guy should have stayed in jail”, July 17, 2016.
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2 thoughts on “Predicting violence: the psychology of bail and alternatives to incarceration

  1. Your account shows the difficulty of prediction. My wife survived 30 years with an ex who was verbally abusive when sober and physically abusive when drunk. If dinner was late, the plates weren’t thrown around the room; they ended up in the driveway. In the backwoods community where she lived, the penalty for beating the wife was a $25 fine and overnight in jail. She actually has chronicled her journey through domestic violence in a poetry book that will be appearing in the next few days from Lulu.

    My minor question is — what’s the difference between forced intercourse and rape?

  2. Here in Massachusetts a husband cannot be charged with sexual assault on his wife – unless particularly egregious. When brought to jail most men are released on their own recognizance. I am trying to make changes to this law by conducting dangerousness assessments prior to release using standardized instruments like Lenore Walker’s instrument. Then it is up to a judge to take the responsibility of releasing high risk abusers. I will look forward to reading Lulu I am sorry she went through that.

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