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Domestic Violence Prevention: Online Services for Prisoners

 

3.0 corrective services programs in state and territory jurisdictions

There are a number of different programs designed to target domestic and family violence across Australia. Each program is unique to its state jurisdiction and varying approaches are taken to combating the issue of domestic violence. It is interesting to note the lack of programs that target cultural differences in regards to domestic violence. There is a distinct absence of programs or services which target domestic violence in Indigenous Australian communities, with the exception of Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

3.1 western australia: geraldton family and domestic violence project (Barndimalgu court)

The Departments of Corrective Services and the Attorney General are working in partnership with the Geraldton Aboriginal community to reduce the incidence of family and domestic violence in Western Australia. The Barndimalgu Court and Geraldton Family and Domestic Violence Project, established in August 2007, is specifically for Aboriginal people in Geraldton, to help them break the pattern of domestic and family violence associated with this group.

[1] The program aims to address the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prison, and the high numbers of them imprisoned as a result of family and domestic violence related offences. When an Indigenous Australian is arrested and charged with a domestic violence offence, they are sent to the Barndimalgu Court. People who plead guilty have the opportunity to participate in a 20-week program to address their violent behaviour before the final sentence is delivered. If the person successfully completes the program, they may not have to go to prison and may be given a community sentence instead.

An advantage of this style of program is that it views rehabilitation as the central focus, with offenders given the opportunity to deal with their behaviour and reform themselves rather than merely incarcerating them. As stated previously, research suggests that programs are significantly more effective when the individuals are given the ability to voluntarily engage in the program and take responsibility for their actions without being forced into it.

However, it could be argued by some critics that the program is too lenient as offenders could potentially escape prison time altogether. Analysis of outcomes could show if this argument has validity. Further, while it may be able to limit the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prison for family and domestic violence related offences, it cannot be accessed by nor does it help those already in prison.


[1]Department of the Attorney General, Geraldton Family and Domestic Violence Project: A Reducing Aboriginal Imprisonment Strategy (2007) <https://www.correctiveservices.wa.gov.au/_files/probation-parole/gfdv-project.pdf>.

3.2 queensland: ending family violence program

Ending Family Violence is a culturally specific intervention program designed for Indigenous offenders who have been convicted of family or community violence. It helps them address aspects of their criminogenic behaviour relating to the violence and is based on a cognitive behavioural model.[1] It utilises both active and experiential learning exercises that are culturally appropriate. The program aims to raise the participants’ awareness regarding the impact of domestic violence on the family unit as well as to investigate options to assist them to change their lifestyle. Ending Family Violence focuses on the key areas of the nature of violence in families, including links between substance abuse and violence in families, awareness of the consequences of violence, identifying how violence can be prevented, strengthening focus (empowerment) and developing a relapse prevention and management plan to establish positive lifestyle choices. It is available in both correctional centres as well as the Probation and Parole service for both male and female offenders (as the program’s concepts are mostly gender neutral). It is a 20-hour intervention program and may be delivered over five weeks. 10 sessions are usually facilitated twice a week in 2-hourly sessions.

A prominent advantage of this program is its emphasis upon culturally appropriate measures. As stated previously, programs need to account for cultural differences by understanding and incorporating culturally diverse perspectives in order to specifically target and engage with the individual’s underlying attitudes. Through this, more enduring attitudinal and behavioural changes can be carried out. A further benefit is that the program can be accessed by those who are incarcerated and on parole and probation, thus not limiting access to offenders with a long duration remaining on their sentence. Instead, the offender can continue the program upon release. The program not only targets the most serious offenders but also those involved in less serious offences who are potentially more willing to rehabilitate.

A potential disadvantage is that the offender may not be able to physically attend and continue the program once they are released from prison, particularly in situations where they have family obligations. This could possibly limit their continuing access to the program, which in turn could reduce the effectiveness of the program as research has suggested that program completion is necessary for significant therapeutic effect, as stated previously.


[1]Department of the Attorney General, Geraldton Family and Domestic Violence Project: A Reducing Aboriginal Imprisonment Strategy (2007) <https://www.correctiveservices.wa.gov.au/_files/probation-parole/gfdv-project.pdf>

3.3 south australia: domestic and family violence intervention program (dfvip)

DFVIP is a 10-week behaviour change program aimed exclusively at men and offered in a group setting, which addresses violent and abusive behaviours within spousal relationships, whether the victim is a current or past partner.[1] Key principles of the program include holding the safety of partners, children and others as paramount and emphasising that men are responsible for their actions. This is important as a man whose actions are violent or abusive, is only likely to cease if he takes full responsibility for those actions. The program modules involve Responsibility Taking, Dangerous Thinking, Cycles of Violence, Effects for Children, Safe Relationships and Safety Planning. The program will at all times and in every aspect be respectful and non-abusive. Every effort is made to ensure the DFVIP program is an initiative to make men feel respected in their efforts to overcome the issue of domestic violence. In particular, the following four dichotomies will be addressed as a means of identifying past unsafe and abusive behaviour within relationships and considering alternative safe (non-violent and non-abusive) and respectful ways of being within relationships: Blaming vs. not blaming, Controlling vs. caring, Selfish fathers vs. good dads and Ownership vs. partnership.

A significant advantage of the program is its broad focus on both current and past victims. This provides access to those who behaved violently in the past and does not just limit it to those who are violent now. Additionally, the program emphasises accountability, stating that all aspects of anti-violence groups are accountable to those who have been subject to the violence and abuse, as well as the organisations, statutory bodies, and services that represent or assist people who have been subject to violence and abuse.

A potential disadvantage to this program is that men may be reluctant to openly discuss their feelings or experiences, due to the social stigma surrounding men and emotions. This can prevent them from properly engaging in the program. Alternatively, where such discussions do occur, they may feel the need to maintain or regain their ‘masculinity’ in front of their peers, through negative, victim-blaming language. This would also prevent the program from being truly effective.


[1]Department for Correctional Services, Domestic and Family Violence Intervention Program (2010) <http://www.corrections.sa.gov.au/rehabilitation-programs/domestic-and-family-violence-intervention-program>.

3.4 australian capital territory: ACT corrective services domestic abuse program

As part of a focus on prevention, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government will provide $964,000 over three years in the 2016–17 ACT Budget for a behavioural change program. The ACT Corrective Services Domestic Abuse Program targets men who are convicted of a domestic abuse offence against their current or recent ex‑partner, not victims.[1] The program aims to address issues within relationships, whether the victim of the offence is a current or past partner. It explores links between behaviours, thoughts and feelings in relation to offending, which leads to a model of accepting responsibility and victim safety. The program aims to reduce the likelihood of men committing domestic and family violence, including sexual assault against women and children, and to enable women and children to remain in the family home. The initiative will provide a three‑month therapeutic residential program for men who have used or are at risk of using violence in the home. Rehabilitation will involve intensive case coordination, case management, group work, individual counselling, development of living skills and referral.

A benefit of the program is that it is well supported in terms of its resource availability, allowing greater accessibility to it. However, it is unknown how the program measures domestic violence, such as the conditions in which it takes place, leading to the possibility of inconsistent findings. The program’s focus on male offenders entails a very gendered approach that deals only with men and their behaviours, thoughts and feelings in relation to offending. While such an approach targets the main perpetrators of domestic and family violence (70% of all offenders are male), male victims and female perpetrators do not have access to this program, due to the gendered approach, thus reducing the program’s effectiveness. A more gender-neutral approach may be preferable, as domestic violence occurs to both sexes.


[1]ACT Government, ACT Government Response to Family Violence (2016), 7, <http://www.cmd.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/883484/ACT-Government-Response_family_violence.pdf>.

3.5 northern territory: introduced indigenous family violence offenders program

The Indigenous Family Violence Offenders Program works with Indigenous offenders to educate and provide alternative strategies for addressing issues that resulted in family violence.[1] Clients are primarily referred through the court system, Community Corrections, the Police and the Department of Children and Family Services. Local indigenous facilitators assist with the delivery of the program in remote communities, regional centres and prisons in the Northern Territory. The program is an alternative sentencing option to imprisonment for the court system and its overriding aim is to reduce the incidence of Indigenous family violence in indigenous communities.

Local Indigenous facilitators foster a sense of community and familial support – which is an excellent method of addressing domestic violence for a community, as it implies specific cultural requirements. Furthermore, as it is an alternative to prison, it suggests that the focus is placed on rehabilitation. However, this initiative may be thought by some to be lenient on perpetrators of domestic violence, which can be problematic for victims or individuals with strong views on the forms of adequate punishment.


[1][1] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Indigenous Family Violence Offender Program (IFVOP) Statistics, Northern Territory (2011) <http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4533.0Chapter1752011>.

3.6 tasmania: the tasmanian family violence offender intervention program (fvoip)

The Family Violence Offender Intervention Program is currently provided by Community Corrections within Tasmania’s Department of Justice.[1] Offenders who are deemed eligible can attend the program through mandate or as an element of their sentencing. Clients are offenders who are identified as having a high risk of re-offending or escalating their violence. Within the program, skills for interpersonal relationships are built, such as conflict management and getting feedback from others.

The program’s aim is to change the offenders’ behaviour in regards to family violence, by targeting criminogenic needs, such as violence propensity and substance abuse. FVOIP is part of the larger Safe At Home project, and it is interconnected with other departments such as the Police, Courts and Community Corrections, which liaise regularly in order to ensure ongoing safety of victims and the best management of offenders.

As the program is connected to other departments, it allows for regulation, support and perhaps most importantly, access to funding for the service. However, whilst an exclusive mechanism for ‘high risk’ prisoners exists, there are needs for a standard approach accessible for all domestic violence prisoners.


[1]Tasmanian Government, The Tasmanian Family Violence Offender Intervention Program (2014) <http://safeathome.tas.gov.au/offenders/fvoip>.

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