Domestic Violence Prevention: Online Services for Prisoners
2.0 programs offered by corrective services (nsw)
This paper argues that the current programs offered to offenders are not sufficient in promoting rehabilitation and reducing recidivism, due to inconsistencies and limitations to access. Instead, online counselling services are suggested as a more effective measure, particularly in-cell counselling using computers. This paper will look first at the current programs in NSW (EQUIPS Domestic Abuse Program, Self-Regulation Program For Violent Offending and Out Of The Dark), before turning to those in other jurisdictions (Geraldtown Family And Domestic Violence Project, Ending Family Violence Program, Domestic And Family Violence Intervention Program, ACT Corrective Services Domestic Abuse Program, Introduced Indigenous Family Violence Offenders Program and Tasmanian Family Violence Offender Intervention Program) and finally examining other more general services available (Men’s Behaviour Change Programs and Risk-Needs-Responsivity Model). In order to develop a more in-depth understanding, outlines of the programs will be provided, including their structure and the criteria to gaining access to them. For each program, a critical analysis will be undertaken, emphasising their advantages and disadvantages, before an overall examination is conducted at the end. It will then consider online counselling services, with emphasis upon their ability to address the afore-mentioned limitations.
2.1 EQUIPS domestic abuse program
The Explore, Question, Understand, Investigate, Practise to Succeed (EQUIPS) Domestic Abuse program (also referred to as DAP) is based on a psycho-behavioural framework and has strong therapeutic influence in its delivery. It 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. The 40-hour program is divided into five modules of four sessions each (total of 20, 2-hour sessions). The five modules are Identifying abuse, Managing emotions, beliefs and attitudes, Offence mapping, Victim impact and Sexual respect, Relationship skills and Self-management strategies. The program can be completed as either a single program or combined with others for a more flexible approach to particular offenders. The criteria to gaining access to the program include the following:
- Medium to high risk of recidivism
- Offence against intimate partners
- Incarcerated or under supervision
- Suitability Assessment: if in custody conducted by an interview
- Excludes: offenders with active psychotic symptoms, alcohol and drug intoxication/withdrawal symptoms, sex offenders, offenders already participating in a variety of other programs or if at the High Risk Management Unit, or at the Bolwarra or Parramatta Transitional Centre
Examining the benefits of this program first, it was awarded the National Certificate of Merit in the Australia Crime and Violence Prevention Awards in 2011. Blatch et al examined the recidivism outcomes for 953 offending men with domestic violence histories, who served a community-based sentence and were enrolled in the Domestic Abuse Program (DAP), by Corrective Services NSW. 63% completed the program and results showed that enrolment was associated with significant improvements in odds of time to first general reconviction (15%) and first violent reconviction (by 27%) compared to controls. Reconviction rates were significantly lower (by 15%) for DAP enrolees. Program completion was necessary for significant therapeutic effect. These results highlight a significant benefit of the EQUIPS DAP program, suggesting it could be adopted by other jurisdictions to modify criminal behaviours of domestically abusive men, potentially decreasing the physical, emotional, and financial impacts on victims and providing savings to government as well as the criminal justice system.
Turning to the disadvantages of the EQUIPS DAP, a significant limitation to individuals gaining access to it is that the program has specific exclusionary criteria. Anyone who does not fulfil the requirements is prevented from participating. In particular, the program excludes offenders with active psychotic symptoms and/or alcohol or drug intoxication or withdrawals. Given the 2015 Health of Australia’s Prisoners  report noting the high levels of mental health issues, illicit drug use and risk of alcohol consumption by prison entrants, a significant proportion of prisoners are excluded from participating in domestic violence programs. Such exclusionary criterion also ignores the role of alcohol, drugs and mental health issues in an offender’s domestic violence behaviour. Although it is possible for the offender to first complete other programs targeting issues such as mental health, drugs and alcohol abuse, and then turn to the domestic violence programs, such a sequence is rare. This is because the large numbers of prisoners with mental health, drug and alcohol issues makes it exceedingly competitive to gain access to such services, thus preventing such offenders from gaining access to either set of programs.
Corrective Services New South Wales, Compendium of Offender Behaviour Change Programs in New South Wales (2016) 35.
 Blatch et al, ‘Evaluation of an Australian domestic abuse program for offending males’ (2016) 8(2) Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research 4.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, The health of Australia’s prisoners (2015) <http://www.aihw.gov.au/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=60129553682>.
2.2 self-regulation program for violent offending
This program targets those with intellectual disabilities or cognitive impairments, who have difficulties when adapting to the prison life, are at risk of reoffending and have a history of violent behaviour. Although domestic violence is not directly targeted, the program may also be suitable for domestic violence offenders, as decided on a case-by-case basis. The criteria to gaining access to the program include the following:
- Medium-high to high risk of recidivism
- 2-2.5 years from release date
- Intellectual disability or cognitive impairment
- Current conviction for a violent offence
- History of violent offences
- Suitable for one out cell placement
- 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
A significant advantage of the program is its focus on offenders with intellectual disabilities or cognitive impairments. However, a significant problem in accessing the program is its exclusionary criteria.
 Ibid 53.
2.3 out of the dark
The program targets women who have experienced domestic and family violence and consists of six sessions of 1.5-2 hours duration, 1-2 sessions per week. The criteria to gaining access to the program include the following:
- Must be female
- Must be suitable; this is assessed on a case-by-case basis.
- Excludes women who have been perpetrators (even if also victims)
An advantage of the Out of the Dark program is its narrow focus upon females, which allows women to discuss their past experiences of domestic and family violence without fear of retribution or increased violence from their male partners. Additionally, the short sessions and time periods between each session give the individual more time to assimilate what they have learnt, which in turn, increases their likelihood of implementing it.
However, despite this advantage, there is a significant limitation to this program, inherent in its exclusionary criteria. That is, the Out of the Dark program excludes female victims who then become perpetrators. This excludes a sector of the population in most need of assistance, as it ignores the causes that contribute to the participation in crimes.
 Ibid 83.