Domestic Violence Prevention Paper
The prevalence of domestic violence continues to increase at an alarming rate; perpetrators of domestic violence offences are amongst the most represented groups within correctional services.
The clear need to explore additional counseling options for domestic violence is demonstrated by the high recidivism rate. With 20.3% of perpetrators reoffending within twelve months of release, online services could provide crucial assistance in ending the cyclical nature of domestic violence.
In 2015, Justice Action offered to conduct a free 3 month trial of online delivery of councelling services in NSW correctional services. You can view more here.
Risk factors for perpetrators of domestic violence include low socio-economic status, low education level, and exposure to aggression and delinquent behaviour in adolescence. These factors also lead to aggression and likelihood of offending and imprisonment in general. The majority of domestic violence offenders are male, with men representing 70% of all offenders. The Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOSCAR) identified that male attitudes toward women and violence is a key factor in domestic violence. Alcohol and exposure to pornography are also major risk factors for domestic violence.
Imprisonment therefore becomes an ineffective deterrent without a heavy focus on changing the attitudes of domestically violent men. The National Council's Plan for Australia to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children (NCRVWC 2009b) highlights the need for long-term funding for effective interventions in the form of perpetrator programs and criminal justice interventions.
Programs currently offered by Corrective Services (NSW)
Explore, Question, Understand, Investigate, Practice to Succeed Domestic Abuse Program (EQUIPS DAP)
EQUIPS DAP is based on a psycho-behavioural framework and has strong therapeutic influence in its delivery. This group based CBT program has a strong emphasis on inviting perpetrators to accept responsibility for their offending behaviour. It also encourages them to increase their level of accountability to the wider community.
In order to gain access to the program offenders must satisfy criteria that include: a medium to high risk of recidivism, offence against intimate partners, be currently incarcerated or under supervision, undergo a suitability assessment
The program excludes: offenders with active psychotic symptoms, offenders with alcohol and drug intoxication/withdrawal symptoms, sex offenders, offenders already participating in several other programs, offenders who are at the High Risk Management Unit or the Bolwarra or Parramatta Transitional Centres
EQUIPS has been shown to result in a significant reduction in reconviction rates for offenders who complete the program. However the exclusionary criteria, particularly relating to mental illness and alcohol and illicit drug use or dependency result in a significant proportion of domestic violence offenders finding themselves ineligible to participate in the program. Group-based programs such as EQUIPS also do not always have the ability to sufficiently target individual needs and circumstances and thus may benefit from being offered in combination with the individual therapy that would be made possible with online services.
Self - Regulation Program for Violent Offending
This program targets those with intellectual disabilities or cognitive impairments, whom have difficulties when adapting to the prison life, are at risk of reoffending and have a history of violent behaviour. Although this program is not directly targeted towards domestic violence inmates who have been convicted of domestic violence offences may be considered suitable participants, as decided on a case-by-case basis.
The criteria for access to the program include the following: a medium-high to high risk of recidivism, participants to be 2-2.5 years from release date, intellectual disability or cognitive impairment, current conviction for a violent offence, a history of violent offences, suitable for one out cell placement.
The program excludes inmates who have recently been: non-compliant to medication, at risk of suicide or self-harm, have a history of aggressive conduct while in custody, received adverse intelligence reports, have been segregated or are subject to court proceedings
While this program has many advantages it is not a suitable program for a large amount of domestic violence offenders due to its significant exclusionary criteria.
Out of the Dark
This program targets women who have experienced domestic and family violence and consists of six sessions of 1.5-2 hours duration taken at a rate of 1-2 sessions a week.
To gain access to the participants must be female and be assessed as suitable, this is decided on a case-by-case basis. The program excludes women who have been perpetrators, even if they are also victims.
While the programs focus on female victims allows it to provide significant benefits to participants it is limited by its exclusionary criteria. That is, the Out of the Dark program excludes female victims who then become perpetrators. This dismisses a sector of the population in most need of assistance, as it ignores the causes that contribute to the participation in crimes, such as the cyclic nature of domestic violence.
Although current support services are available, low levels of access (with only 5,000 vacancies in behavior change programs per year) have signaled a need for the implementation of online services. Existing services include; Baptist Care's 'Facing Up Program', Catholic Care's Men and 'Family Relationships Program' and the 'Taking Responsibility' course (run by Relationships Australia, NSW).
Providing prisoners access to online counseling services, in conjunction with face-to-face programs, will help promote respectful domestic relationships and modify the behaviors of domestically violent men. Prisoners will be able to effectively use the eighteen hours spent in-cell by participating in 24-hour accessible, individualized online treatment.
In addition to counseling, these online services will provide domestic violence offenders with access to learning resources. Educating offenders places an emphasis on learning how to relate to partners in a respectful way, assisting with the development of non-abusive alternatives for dealing with relationship difficulties.
Prisoner access to these online services for domestic violence within their cells would provide a secondary level of counseling to those already enrolled in programs such as EQUIPS DAP. Most importantly it would enable those who are excluded from such programs to access rehabilitative measures that are vital for reducing recidivism.
Online therapy has been shown to be as effective as face-to-face counseling whilst reducing the cost of counseling by approximately 10% per participant. Online services provide more regular access to supportive networks and the anonymous nature reducing the pressures of face-to-face programs.