John_Trembley_kansas
STEVEN HAUSLER • Hays Daily News - John Trembley, director of Northwest Kansas Community Corrections, talks about the new facility for the batterers intervention program recently at the office in Hays. The room was renovated at virtually no cost using community service hours.
John Trembley points to a blank wall in the newly remodeled batterer intervention conference center in the basement of Northwest Kansas Community Corrections.

"I'm thinking about putting a big sign in red letters there that reads 'stop the violence.'"

"So they'd always be looking at it," he said.

Trembley, director of NWKCC, said he was motivated to implement a batterer intervention program because of the domestic violence-related murders of two Ellis County women in the last few years.

In an effort to combat the violence, he began writing grant proposals to receive program funding. Thanks to grants from the Violence Against Women Act, Byrne program and United Way of Ellis County, NWKCC has added a batterer intervention program to its list of services.

Sessions have been taking place for several weeks in the basement conference room, remodeled by individuals on community service.

Gov. Mark Parkinson signed new legislation in April requiring courts to evaluate individuals with a history of domestic violence incidents in the state's criminal justice system, tagging those individuals' files, improving tracking efforts, assessing them and recommending intervention treatment programs.

Certified batterer intervention programs in Kansas are rare, with only six in the state. Once certification is complete for NWKCC's program, it will become the only Kansas Department of Corrections, community corrections or any probation program with the attorney general's certification.

Community corrections agencies generally refer batterers to outside agencies for treatment.

However, funding cuts to mental health agencies statewide have curtailed development of these programs, which vary greatly and range from only six hours to eight months of counseling.

The development of NWKCC's program has been based closely on the policies and procedures laid out by the attorney general's office.

Tom Runge, facilitator of the local program, has served on the attorney general's batterer intervention advisory board, and was instrumental in creating criteria for the certification process.

"I was able to bring back what the attorney general was working on and design our program," Runge said. "It essentially mirrors what the attorney general wants verbatim."

Runge, a licensed clinical therapist who worked as a forensic psychologist for the state of Kansas and mental health evaluator for High Plains Mental Health Center, has been trained in counseling batterers through the Emerge program in Boston.

He pointed out the domestic violence tag bill dictates an individual convicted or sentenced to a crime, with a history of domestic violence, needs to be treated or assessed through a certified program if available.

"They can't make that mandatory right now, because there just aren't enough programs," Runge said.

He has assessed many offenders, but said single, isolated episodes of domestic violence do not constitute battering syndrome. Accurate assessment of offenders is critical to the process.

Runge's experience in evaluating offenders helps him know who should or shouldn't be in the program.

"We're looking at individuals who have engaged in or displayed a pattern of behaviors," he said. "Not only the physical side, but the emotional and financial side. It's a pattern of behavior that's existed over time."

Offenders pay a minimal fee to participate, thus investing financially in their future outcomes. Weekly updates on participants' status is shared with NWKCC.

Runge's program, called Strategies for Change, works in two stages. The first eight-week sessions focus on education, "getting everybody on the same wavelength to know what we're talking about," Runge said.

Participants learn domestic violence is not just a matter of name-calling or slapping another person, he said, but the underlying psychological effect and interpersonal interactions that constitute abuse.

Sessions then move into the area of practical application, shaping the way participants interact with others.

"We try to change the way they think and the way they view life. Our premise is, there's not a genetic factor here. People aren't born abusers. You learn it... If you can learn a behavior, you can unlearn it," Runge said.

Although "unlearning" the behavior is not as easy as learning it, Runge conceded, it is critical for participants to recognize how their behavior effects others.

Four participants currently attend weekly meetings. Runge said the sessions can sometimes be "very confrontational" and that "the guys are learning to hold each other to the fire -- to be accountable.

"It's a group process," he said. "It's a change process for everybody."

Runge is joined in sessions by his wife, who co-facilitates and also received Emerge training. She assists in communicating with victims, which is a central element of the batterer intervention program.

"We're heavily weighted on making sure the victim's needs are met and protected, and that they are safe," Runge said.

Victims are informed of safety plans, services available and receive status updates on the offender.

Trembley pointed out many advantages to the community in having treatment programs such as the batterer intervention program housed within the corrections department. Other NWKCC programs include anger management, methamphetimine treatment and sex offender programs.

"We know immediately if an offender hasn't made his appointment," Trembley said. "That's a very high risk. Then we know something's going on. I don't have to wait two months to get a report."

Following meetings, Trembley receives a report and is notified if any risks or threats might be possible with each offender.

"We know immediately if there's anything we should be aware of," Trembley said, "If you're sitting on this side of the desk, you can't imagine how much you appreciate that."

NWKCC has been recognized in the National Council Magazine for its work in being proactive in reducing the incidence of repeat offenses and is the only corrections department in Kansas with a licensed mental health professional on staff or on contract.

The unique relationship between Trembley and Runge in supervising, assessing and offering a variety of programs for offenders gives northwest Kansas residents a high level of community corrections service.

"Tom is in the business of change," Trembley said. "I'm in the business of change also ... But first of all, I'm in the business of public safety.

"Public safety overrides change. There will be no threats of violence in this program without consequences. When you're dealing with victims and the community, that's first with me."

Runge pointed out the average prison stay for offenders in Kansas is 13 months, so corrections departments must be prepared to help offenders make the transition back into their communities.

"Now they're out," Trembley said. "Sure you want to see total behavioral change. That's the idea -- but not at the expense of harming somebody else. It just won't be allowed."

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