GREENFIELD — When former football star O.J. Simpson was accused of killing his ex-wife in 1994, the case brought domestic violence to the forefront, and law enforcement agencies across the country raced to implement prevention initiatives.
At the Hancock County Probation Department, Wayne Addison was proud to say his office already had such a program in place – and had, in fact, for years.
It’s thanks to Gayle Conley, said Addison, chief probation officer. Conley, 52, of Indianapolis, has been working for Addison for 25 years and approached him in the late 1980s about the need for a treatment program for violent offenders.
Her efforts would ultimately transform the way violent offenders in the county are handled.
Next week, Conley will be recognized by the Indiana Coalition against Domestic Violence as Probation Officer of the Year. The award is given each October in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Conley’s nomination letter, submitted by Families First, notes that “Gayle does not stand at a distance hoping offenders take action to get help, but instead she engages herself in their rehabilitation and consistently holds them accountable to take ownership of their actions.”
Looking back, Conley said the county’s options for those in domestic abuse situations have come a long way.
“There was no treatment for people who had been convicted of domestic violence, and I thought that was a travesty,” Conley said. “I thought there should be something.”
Almost 25 years ago, Conley reached out to the former Family Service Association (now called Families First) for help in changing that, and together, they found a training seminar in Indianapolis about domestic violence treatment.
After the training, Conley and representatives from Family Service worked together to implement a 26-week treatment program for domestic violence offenders. The majority of those convicted of domestic violence in Hancock County still go through that same treatment today, though the program is open to anyone.
The treatment focuses on learning how to refocus anger and identify the emotions behind an outburst in an effort to avoid lashing out.
“We saw great results,” Conley said. “The recidivism rates went way down.”
Conley’s work has won her the respect of her colleagues, including fellow probation officer Stephania Houchins.
Houchins said a probation officer’s level of oversight can be basic or involved, and Conley is known for going the extra mile.
“I witness her consistently investing in their lives,” she said.
Conley oversees all the county’s violent offenders and knows being a woman in a position of authority can be an obstacle from the outset for many of her male probationers.
But there is a visible change in the vast majority of them from the start of the program to the end, Addison said.
“It is amazing to see the difference in them 26 weeks down the road by the time their probation terminates,” he said.
Addison said having a dedicated staff with members like Conley makes his job easy. He just has to sit back and let them do what they do best.
“She has been a specialist in this field for a long time, and she has helped a lot of people,” he said.