"I think it is absolutely unconscionable that we give these people three whacks at somebody before we do anything and then almost, in my opinion, reward them. If you wanted to do this at the first violation, the first time, I would have been in support, but to give them three opportunities and who's to say that their victim will survive three violent actions." ~Jody Washington, Lansing City Council First Ward
Lansing, Mich. (WILX) A state grant to give repeat domestic abusers counseling instead of jail time failed to pass the Lansing City Council, despite majority support.
Council members Jody Washington and President A'Lynne Boles both voted against the budget amendment -- which needs six votes to pass. Council member Kathie Dunbar was absent from the meeting.
"I am proud to be the vote that stood in the way of this," said Washington, still emotional after what was, by all accounts, an emotional vote. "I think it is absolutely unconscionable that we give these people three whacks at somebody before we do anything and then almost, in my opinion, reward them. If you wanted to do this at the first violation, the first time, I would have been in support, but to give them three opportunities and who's to say that their victim will survive three violent actions."
The Domestic Violence Swift and Sure Sanctions Pilot Program would have allowed third-time offenders to plead guilty and skip jail time. Instead, they could volunteer for a 12-to-24 month program overseen by the courts.
"This gives them an opportunity with some special funding to have paid-for treatment, testing, accountability," said Judge Louise Alderson, of the 54-A district court.
Perpetrators would be encouraged to tackle issues with anger management, drugs or alcohol -- anything that causes violent behavior.
If they completed the course, there would be a chance for the charges to be dismissed.
"Most victims aren't looking at 'I want him to go to jail or I want him to pay for what he did.' Most of them want the violence to stop," said Tonya Avery, executive director for Lansing's Ending Violent Encounters Shelter. "And so this program is looking at what do we need to do to stop the violence in the future. What do we do to let this person know that we will not tolerate violence against our partners but two that we will address this when it happens."
The amendment also seemed to have the support of city council just hours before the vote.
"This is an opportunity to make sure that we can stop the repetitive nature of this and make changes in people's lives that will affect not only the perpetrator, but the victim," said Carol Wood before the meeting.
But Washington says she would rather help be offered after the first offense.
"I would think the responsible thing for them to do is if they find someone beating or assaulting someone in their home that they would seek that treatment to get better at that point and not wait for their third violation," she said.
The budget proposal could come up again at the next meeting because of council member Dunbar's absence, but it is far from a guarantee.
Council member Carol Wood says they all need to talk things over before making any decisions.