Court Ordered Anger Management Not Appropriate for Everyone

by Dr. Joe James on July 11, 2010

After being released after failing to  complete a court ordered anger management class, Michael Ballard was recently accused of murdering 4 people in Northhampton, MA reads a headline on The Lehigh Valley Live website. Obviously, I’m a pretty strong believer in court ordered anger management so you would think that when a headline suggests that a horrific act was committed because someone failed to complete a court ordered anger management class I would be all for the story.

Except I’m not.

Matter of fact, I really think it does a disservice to court ordered anger management programs.

How can that be?

Well, lets dig a little further. It turns out that Mr. Ballard was in jail for stabbing someone to death back in 1991, a crime for which he was sentenced 15 to 30 years (apparently the sentencing guidelines for murder are more lenient than those for third strike drug offenders).   Mr. Ballard was apparently a model prisoner and was released back in 2006 with the contingency that he complete a court ordered anger management program. He failed to do so and was re-imprisoned for violation of probation. He served until last December when he was released, despite indications he was a danger to the community. He also never did complete his court ordered anger management class.  Sadly, he murdered four people in June.

I don’t know Mr. Ballard, so my comments may not apply to him as much as the effectiveness of court ordered anger management courses. Some people, no matter how much anger management or therapy is given to them, are simply not going to respond effectively to treatment. Sociopaths don’t respond to any type of therapy. The core of someone who is a sociopath is that they have no empathy for others and will pretty much do anything to get what they want including killing someone. Their lack of empathy is endemic to them; its not going to change. No matter how much court ordered anger management they receive they are not going to truly get better. They may act the part to get off the hook, but it ain’t gonna cure them.

People with certain biological mental illnesses, such as Bipolar Disorder,  are also poor candidates for court ordered anger management. The only thing that will help these people is medication. They may be able to use anger management after receiving proper psychopharnmacological care but not until then.

Unfortunately, many judges fail to take this into account when sentencing people to court ordered anger management.  People accused of committing acts of violence should have a mental health evaluation to determine their anger personality profile  as part of their sentencing to ensure that they receive the proper treatment and the proper sentence.

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