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Can All Domestic Violence Offenders Be Rehabilitated?

August 30, 2018 1:45 p.m.

Can All Domestic Violence Offenders Be Rehabilitated?


Jessica Yaffa, president, San Diego Domestic Violence Council

Related Story: Can All Domestic Violence Offenders Be Rehabilitated?


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

It was a shocking crime that happened in San Marcos in 2008. A young mother named Kendra Beebe was stabbed 23 times slashed and smothered by her former boyfriend. Sometimes the actor called Shelley Malil during his trial he claimed self-defence. He was found guilty and sentenced to 12 years to life in prison. Now after eight years Mel Leal has been granted parole. His victim Kendra San Diego's district attorney and even Gov. Jerry Brown have all expressed disappointment with the decision to grant Malil parole. Here's how da Summers Stefan put it.

You know so much pain and trauma victims go through their whole life is just a different life from once once. Violence and being so close to death and so 80 is just does not seem sufficient to protect the community and to protect that victim. She's been traumatized knowing that this person is going to be released. We do believe in rehabilitation but we believe when a violent crime of this nature is committed the person should remain in custody.

Joining me by Skype is Jessica Yafa president of the San Diego domestic violence council. She trains professionals on how to assess and respond to domestic violence. She is also a domestic violence survivor. And Jessica welcome to the show. Thanks very much for having me.

What criteria doesn't end of the offender have to meet in order to make parole like that when someone is considered for parole things like good behavior courses completed treatment for substance use or other mental health challenges as well as letters of reconciliation or restoration being written creating opportunities to provide any sort of restoration to victims and families through monetary needs where others are all things considered during the parole hearing.

Shelley Malayali said that he was deeply involved in his rehabilitation. And I'm wondering what type of domestic violence offender is a good candidate for rehabilitation.

What we do know is that unfortunately there's a large majority of those who have committed crimes under the umbrella of domestic violence that don't do well in rehabilitation. And those folks typically have either narcissistic or sociopathic traits may have other mental health challenges often come from families where they have experienced significant trauma. And we know the number one indicator a repeat offenders is those who have committed domestic violent crimes prior to the current event that has gotten them to jail or prison. So on the flip side of that what that means is that those that are are most likely to rehabilitate or those for whom this is a first offense those who have potentially lesser offenses although we don't want to categorize it as that because of course all offenses related to domestic violence are serious offenses. But those who have offenses around things like vandalism or mutual combat or where where there is similar situation of violence are certainly better candidates than those who are our real offenders or have some of those other compounding factors.

What does the rehabilitation that a domestic violence offender receives in prison. What does that rehabilitation consist of.

So that does vary some from both system the system and state to state. It's my understanding that much of the rehabilitation that is specific to domestic violence offenders very much sort of simulate the curriculum that exists in what we call our 52 week batterers programs. Those programs often provide curriculum around things like boundaries setting healthy communication deescalating. When news of Ingrid arise treatment for IEMs assessment issues such as substance use other mental health challenges etc. There may also be opportunities to interject a treatment for it. Like I said recounting issues like substance use mental health child cetera. There's also an opportunity to do some work around parenting.

Now it's my understanding that you believe there is an additional step needed in order for rehabilitation to be accomplished and that involves addressing some underlying trauma in these perpetrators.

Absolutely. It's my opinion and the opinion of many other professionals that work in this arena. That trauma begets trauma. Right. We've all sort of for the statement hurt people hurt people and so it's my belief as well as the belief of many providers in our community that while it's important to teach anger management while those red flags and warning signs and help offenders learn how to both Sec'y and respect boundaries. If we don't address the underlying trauma and other complicating factors for someone who is a harm doer or perpetrator of violence the likelihood of a repeat offense is significant. And so in my opinion it's not enough to simply teach someone how to take a time out for how to potentially deescalate a volatile situation. It's also imperative that we offer them the opportunity to heal the trauma that is basically being acted out in relationship.

The victim in this case Kendra baby was quoted in the San Diego Union Tribune. She reacted to news of my Leal's when that the parole board saying quote He's an actor by trade and a liar by choice. So how do you know if someone really is rehabilitated.

That's a really good question. Right. And I wish I had an easy answer because we know that many of the personality traits of those who are perpetrators of domestic violence look similar inept. Often there is a diagnosis of either sociopathic or psychopathic traits as well as traits of narcissism. What that means is that often those who are perpetrating the violence of any form are in fact often very manipulative and can often present as some of our most charming members of society. And so unfortunately one of the only ways that we really know that someone is rehabilitated is to sort of monitor their engagement in their community and in relationship as we transition out of what would be say a prison system or a treatment system. Because until in fact they are engaging again in real life they can continue to perform well in a setting in which they are coming out.

I've been speaking with Jessica Yafa president of the San Diego domestic violence Council. And Jessica thank you. My pleasure.