After a judge questioned allowing offenders convicted of domestic battery to participate in work release, a national organization has joined the call for not allowing such criminals to partake in the program.

Ruth Glenn, the president and CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), said she doesn’t believe individuals charged with domestic battery, a level six felony in Indiana, should be allowed to participate in work release because it could send a message of positive reinforcement to offenders.

“This is about as long as we treat it as a minimal crime or a minor crime, we will respond to it as a minor crime, and we will continue to see people victimized because of domestic violence by those that perpetrate domestic violence,” said Glenn.

The president of the NCADV, a national organization that aims to “create a culture where domestic violence is not tolerated; and where society empowers victims and survivors and holds abuser accountable,” joins Howard County Superior IV Judge George Hopkins in questioning whether those convicted of domestic violence should participate in work release.

Recently, the topic became a matter of public discussion after it came to light that an individual participating in Howard County’s work release possessed a long history of domestic violence charges. Hopkins questioned whether individuals charged with such a crime should participate given the long-touted talking point that work release is for nonviolent offenders.

Now the Howard County Community Corrections Board will publicly discuss the matter in this Thursday’s scheduled meeting. The conversation is likely to revolve around potential changes to work release policies, which exclude individuals charged with certain violent crimes such as murder but not the specific charge of domestic battery.

Howard Superior Court III Judge Doug Tate, who also serves as the chair of the board, said the topic will be subject to public discussion, with the matter of domestic batteries being a central theme.

“I think it’s very important that at work release we don’t have individuals who are a danger to themselves or others in the community,” said Tate. “Obviously, they are going to be given a little more freedom than if they were in jail, and that’s our primary concern, that we don’t want those that are going to be a danger to themselves or others that are in work release.”

But Tate did point out that ultimately, despite the policies, the decision to place individuals in work release is up to the ultimate discretion of a judge. That discretion, he said, is informed by investigations from the Howard County Probation Department, which highlight an individual’s history in order to evaluate whether they are suitable for participation in the program.

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Regardless, Glenn said she feared allowing those convicted of domestic battery to participate in such programs that serve as more lenient sentences than outright jail or prison sentences.

“There’s a very, very strong message to those that commit the crime that we as a society don’t take it seriously,” said Glenn. “And that’s really unfortunate. As long as we do that it will remain as it is, which is a marginalized crime from my perspective.”

At the same time, Hopkins also questioned allowing individuals to participate in the program prior to conviction.

That topic, too, is likely to be discussed in this week’s meeting, said Tate.

However, work release was implemented in part to curb difficulties in jail overcrowding at the local facility. That goal remains in place, said Tate, and he believes work release remains a vital tool in getting pretrial inmates out of the jail.

“There are going to be some interesting things that I think the group will discuss, and that is with regards to pretrial release and obviously work release,” said Tate. “Anytime we have individuals in the Howard County Jail that would be eligible for a transfer to work release we want to look at those individuals because one of our big concerns is overcrowding in our jail. We have a work release facility, and we want individuals to qualify. We want to utilize that space. And so, persons that are being held in the Howard County Jail before their trial, I believe, are excellent candidates for work release.”

Sheriff Steve Rogers, who also serves on the community corrections board, noted that there is a difference between public perception in allowing such individuals to participate in the program and the overall goals of the facility. After all, he noted, there are oftentimes underlying substance abuse issues involved in domestic violence cases, and rehabilitation should be a central goal of the justice system.

“It’s a constant battle,” said Rogers. “I think a lot of good judges will tell you we can’t be concerned with public perception. We have to be concerned with the rule of law. My judgment is to do the very best at enforcing the law. And uppermost is rehabilitation and how we’re handling these people. I think there’s going to be discussion about this, and it’ll boil down to what the judges want and what they want in each of these cases.”