- Associated Press - Sunday, March 6, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A proposed change of one word in a Utah law could allow domestic violence offenders to avoid getting the help they need, advocates said.

A Senate bill that would reword the law to say that a judge “may” - and not “should” - order a defendant to complete therapy or treatment is moving toward approval by the Legislature. The full Senate approved the bill on Friday and it now goes to the House. Proponents of domestic violence prevention are decrying the idea.

Jenn Oxborrow, executive director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, said the word change is “a huge thing.” Abusers would not be getting treatment that could help increase the chances that they will commit another act of violence, Oxborrow said. According to her organization, most offenders go through a maximum of 16 weeks of mandated therapy. That is low when compared to the national average of 26 weeks.

“They’re already falling through the gaps,” Oxborrow said. “And we’re about to make the statute weaker.”

Derrik Tollefson, a Utah State University professor who has specialized in domestic-violence treatment, said the system needs more of an overhaul. It would be better if abusers had to undergo an evaluation by an expert and then a judge would decide if treatment is needed.

Republican Sen. Lyle Hillyard, of Logan, is sponsoring the legislation.

Among those who see the reasoning behind the idea is Utah Sentencing Commission director Jennifer Valencia, The Salt Lake Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1QDF7lY). She said the current treatment requirement is “bad policy.” According to Valencia, no research indicates treatment or therapy reduces the chance of recidivism.

Sometimes therapy options themselves are questionable, Valencia said. They can include taking a yoga class or watching videos.

The legislation also would call for anyone arrested for domestic violence to sign a release agreement that they will not have contact with the victim. Furthermore, a court hearing would take place within 96 hours after an arrest. Prosecutors would decide then if they will file charges, request an extension or let a jail release agreement expire. Utah law currently does not mandate a court hearing within a specific amount of time.

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com

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