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Program developed by ISU professor being used in Iowa prisons to prevent domestic abuse reoffenders

Professor Amie Zarling says her ACTV program takes a trauma-informed approach that helps better understand and address what's leading to violent behaviors

IOWA, USA — Most prisons in the U.S. use something called the Duluth Model for domestic violence offenders. It's a program of nonviolence classes for men who've committed domestic violence. 

"It really was cutting edge that Iowa was willing to try something else and kind of push the boundary," said Iowa State Professor Amie Zarling. 

Zarling created the ACTV (Achieving Change Through Values-Base Behavior) program. In 2010, the Iowa Department of Corrections decided to pilot it. Since then it's scaled up use across the state. Zarling said the program differs from Duluth by taking a trauma-informed approach to understand offenders.

"They experience an average of four to five traumatic events," said Zarling. "The average for the general population is more like one."

The program takes a wholistic approach to identify and address factors that could lead to this violence, such as childhood trauma or mental health episodes. So far, Zarling said it's seeing success in the prison system.

"It does look like victims of ACTV participants report significantly fewer physically aggressive behaviors," said Zarling. "Controlling behaviors and harassing behaviors than victims of participants who did who went through the Duluth Model."

Zarling said keeping these men from reoffending not only prevents abuse, but also future offenders.

"Most of these men do have children, children are in the home," said Zarling. "And witnessing violence in the home is one of the most significant predictors of intergenerational violence."

"Many of us have been police officers for decades," said Des Moines Police Seargent Paul Parizek. "So you'll see families and you get to know their young children, you will sometimes watch their children grow up. And you do see these patterns repeat themselves in behavior."

Parizek said during a recent 24-hour period, domestic violence accounted for 10% of all calls police received. He added a drop in this violence would be a game-changer for officers. 

"So it's something that requires a lot of our resources," said Parizek. "We don't have a problem or issue dedicating that. So anything, though, that would reduce those numbers of calls is definitely going to be something that we can get behind."