Solicitors to assign treatment to abusers

GAVIN JACKSON/STAFF The South Carolina Supreme Court in Columbia.

COLUMBIA — The S.C. Supreme Court gave solicitors the sole authority to assign batterers convicted of domestic violence to a treatment program instead of getting approval from the state Department of Social Services.

The order, issued Monday by Chief Justice Costa Pleicones, reinforces steps taken when the state passed its landmark domestic violence reform last year.

A key change is that it relieves DSS from having to approve batterer treatment programs.

Solicitors will provide a list of programs available to magistrates and municipal court judges to use when sentencing anyone convicted of domestic violence.

Sara Barber, executive director with S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said she hopes solicitors will adopt minimum guidelines when suggesting treatment.

“It makes me nervous when we have no guidelines at all,” Barber said. “It would be helpful for there to be some guidelines around training and accountability.”

Previously, DSS had basic guidelines for recommending treatment facilities, such as how much education and experience that staff members are required to have.

Barber said many solicitors adopted those practices, but she prefers it to be mandated.

Also, since last year’s domestic violence reform laws eliminated mandatory minimum sentencing, she hopes solicitors support requiring at least six months of treatment.

“People often want easy solutions to complicated issues,” Barber said. “But for the first eight to 10 weeks, a batterer could stay in complete denial about why they’re there.”

Laura Hudson, executive director of the S.C. Crime Victims’ Council, said she “heartily approved” of solicitors being given authority to recommend treatment options.

“It’s going to tie into the task forces that have been formed in each of the 16 judicial districts and allow more control by the solicitors, and also get us more reporting,” Hudson said.

The General Assembly this year approved the creation of circuit-level Domestic Violence Fatality Review Committees that will track and analyze fatal domestic violence cases.

Hudson also said DSS didn’t have the manpower to fully monitor the progress of those going through batterers’ programs. Solicitors are establishing panels of law enforcement, prosecutors, forensic scientists and other stakeholders to review each domestic violence-related fatality.

“Solicitors will be keeping up with what is going on,” she said. “When it was under DSS, the stats were incomplete.”

Pleicones’ order reverses the 2012 rule that then-Chief Justice Jean Toal put in place that had solicitors work with DSS to determine the best treatment program a judge should order. His order places sole responsibility with the solicitor or the state attorney general in those instances when that office prosecutes a case.

The General Assembly last year passed several domestic violence reforms. The legislation was drafted after The Post and Courier published its “Till Death Do Us Part” series, which highlighted South Carolina’s ranking as the deadliest state for women at the hands of men.

Reach Maya T. Prabhu at 843-509-8933.