The County Voice

Exploring Alternative Domestic Violence Intervention Programs
CSAC Releases Year 1 Legislative Report with Six-County Baseline

Domestic violence is a complicated community problem and we have yet to figure out what works for effectively intervening with program participants to reduce repeated incidents. Research to date has indicated that the most common court-mandated batterer intervention programs do not reduce recidivism or alter program participant’s attitudes about violence. In fact, reviews of effectiveness by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy show that most domestic violence programs have no impact on most measures of re-offense (i.e., recidivism), including future incidents of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). Citation: Miller, M., Drake, E., & Nafziger, M. (2013). What works to reduce recidivism by domestic violence offenders? Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy. Ultimately, we need new models and approaches, both in domestic violence intervention systems and programs offered by providers.

In the early 1990s, California established a mandatory 52-week batterer intervention program for persons convicted and placed on probation for domestic violence. For years since, intervention programs have remained stagnant, unchanged from inception, and in many cases, lack a clear evidence-base to what works in reducing IPV. A 2008 study by the Judicial Council of California found a wide variety of practices, programs, and systems with several complicating socio-economic factors, between and within counties. These factors led to low program engagement rates, unmet programming needs like substance use or criminal thinking, and ultimately, high levels of the potential to re-offend either by new arrests or convictions. The study also found that completion rates were impacted by substance use issues and the requirement that program participants personally pay for the program. Citation: Macleod et al. (2008). Batterer Intervention Systems in California: An Evaluation. San Francisco: Judicial Council of California.

In early 2017, a step toward meaningful progress occurred.  California Assembly Member Mark Stone introduced AB 372 to help advance domestic violence batterer intervention programs. California State Association of Counties (CSAC) co-sponsored this legislation which allowed six counties (Napa, San Luis Obispo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, and Yolo) to pilot alternative domestic violence interventions, focusing on creating the opportunity for change to stop future incidents of domestic violence.

Following the legislation, the CSAC Support Hub for Criminal Justice Programming, with the essential support of the Blue Shield of California Foundation, launched CSAC’s Initiative on Improving Domestic Violence Programs and Systems. This initiative has allowed us to develop outcome-based tools for pilot counties, hold convenings and statewide meetings, and develop additional briefs around improving the systems surrounding this topic.  It has also allowed us to champion legislative reporting on AB 372 – creating a mechanism for us to lead county collaboration and data synthesis from these hard-working and innovative pilot counties to develop and publish Year 1 of the Legislative Report.

AB 372 required that alternative programs meet specific conditions, including that the pilot counties perform risk and needs assessments, and that programs include components that are evidence-based or promising practices. Additionally, the legislation required the collection and reporting of specific information to the legislature.  

Beyond the requirements outlined in the legislation, we wanted to provide additional context for implementation and impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. The report explores how programming is assigned based upon the outcomes of risk assessment tools, how intensive the program is for participants (e.g., hours per day or length of time), and ultimately how counties make informed programming decisions with the tools and program flexibility at their disposal. Equally as important, in the report we detail differences in client populations and underlying demographics of program participants. Some of the key findings we found in the initial report, which focuses on program participants entering pilot county domestic violence programming from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020, include:

  • 89 percent of pilot program participants identified as male
  • 38 percent were unemployed
  • 57 percent were younger than 35 years old
  • 51 percent had a prior DV assault reported to the police
  • Nearly three out of five identified as Hispanic

Finally, in the report, we discuss challenges and ongoing work needed to fully recognize the intent of the legislation in understanding output and outcomes based upon the modified pilot programs. This report is just the first in a series that the CSAC Support Hub for Criminal Justice Programming will be producing. Future reports will cover outcomes from pilot counties and briefs will explore topics including behavioral health integration with domestic violence programming, and whether there are potential structural changes to domestic violence interventions that can help improve programming and reduce recidivism.

For more information on the full report or additional activities within the CSAC Initiative on Improving Domestic Violence Programs and Systems, please visit the CSAC Support Hub for Criminal Justice Programming website or contact me, Ryan Souza, Program Director, at


Note: Support for this project was provided by Blue Shield of California Foundation. The views expressed here are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Blue Shield of California Foundation.

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