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Animal Cruelty Prevention Bill Introduced in California

On March 26, 2018, California State Senator Scott Wilk, R-Antelope Valley, introduced SB1024, the Animal Welfare and Violence Intervention Act of 2018, to address the link between animal abuse and violence towards humans and to stop the escalation of dangerous behavior among offenders who hurt animals. The Animal Legal Defense Fund worked closely with Sen. Wilk on the bill concept and drafting to sponsor it with him in the legislature. It has broad support among legislative, animal protection, and law enforcement leaders and will receive a hearing in the Senate Committee for Public Safety in the coming weeks. The Animal Legal Defense Fund will be spearheading the bill’s progress through the legislature.

Bill Introduces Mental Health Counseling and Animal Education to Sentencing

The bill requires all convicted animal cruelty offenders to complete an approved animal offender education course that will teach them proper techniques for interacting with animals in a positive way. The bill also amends California law to require offenders convicted under more serious animal abuse statues — like those involving malicious violence — to undergo a mandatory mental health evaluation and, if deemed beneficial by the assessing mental health professional, to seek ongoing counseling for up to one year.

As law enforcement, mental health, and animal protection communities have known for a long time, current animal cruelty penalties are neither restorative nor rehabilitative and do not sufficiently address the root causes of these crimes nor do they adequately reduce recidivism among animal abuse offenders or escalation of violent behavior among those offenders. This bill seeks to address this problem at its root and prevent further animals or people from becoming victims of the perpetrators in the future.

Animal abuse is among the most misunderstood and undercharged crimes by our criminal justice laws and our society more broadly. Currently, sentencing options are limited and judges are afforded little discretion in appropriate treatment or education of offenders. In California, fines, limited jail time, probation, and forced animal surrender are about the only options. None of these are particularly well suited to addressing the well-documented, underlying causes behind animal cruelty that strongly correlate to subsequent, escalated forms of violence.

The link between animal abuse and violence towards humans is well documented. Offenders who display violence towards animals often subsequently commit violent acts towards humans whether it be domestic violence, child abuse, or, as we saw tragically in Parkland, Florida in 2018, mass shootings. In some cases, 60% of domestic violence offenders also abused animals at some point and 70% of the most violent prisoners in a study of federal prisons, had serious animal abuse in their histories.

Bill Trajectory

As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. While we may not be able to prevent the crimes that bring these offenders to the table, once they’re there, we can certainly endeavor to put the guard rails in place to address their behavior and try to prevent it from happening again. Stay tuned for continued updates about this important legislation as it gains traction and even more support in the California legislature. We commend Senator Wilk for sponsoring this important legislation which could serve as a model nationwide.

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