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Domestic Violence Prevention:Online Services for Prisoners

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Domestic violence is an issue of increasing concern and prevalence within Australian society, particularly as more than half of domestic violence cases are believed to be unreported.[1] Statistics show that one in six women and one in twenty men have reported domestic violence.[2] Furthermore, domestic violence has a high recidivism rate, with 20.3% of perpetrators reoffending within twelve months of being released from prison.[3] It is crucial that domestic violence is specifically targeted, as its detrimental effects can affect both the victim and the family as a whole. For example, children who are exposed to violent behaviour are more likely to adopt this behaviour in their adult lives.[4] The cyclical nature of domestic violence highlights the need to stop its perpetuation.

The Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) identified men’s attitudes towards women and violence as a key factor contributing to domestic violence[5] and therefore, found that imprisonment alone was a short-term fix and an ineffective deterrent of recidivism. Consequently, there is a strong need for programs targeting such attitudes, especially in prisons where the most serious offenders are held. In particular, these programs need to account for cultural differences, by understanding and incorporating culturally diverse perspectives, in order to target men’s attitudes. Whilst progress has been made in the area of compulsory rehabilitation programs,[6] it remains clear that current support services offered to perpetrators of domestic violence are grossly inadequate in meeting the demand for rehabilitation. A detailed analysis of the limitations to accessing these programs will be undertaken within this paper. The major failure of the delivery of services to offenders in jail results in a questioning of the Government’s commitment on this issue; particularly as Premier Baird previously stated that it was in his top six priorities to be addressed during his re-election as Premier. This failure also creates a strain on the current correctional system and proves ineffective in reducing recidivism and correcting the underlying behaviours that lead to violence.

To address this problem and facilitate rehabilitation, this paper argues that prisoners should be given access to online counselling services which are designed to change attitudes and to promote and strengthen respectful relationships between men and women. This online counselling should be delivered through the provision of computers in prison cells. Reports highlight that online therapy delivers the same satisfaction as face-to-face counselling at a reduced cost of approximately 10% per participant.[7] Online counselling services can overcome many of the barriers in the current program, which prevent offenders from seeking therapy. In particular, it can be more readily accessed by those wary of face-to-face confrontation or are suffering from social phobias or anxiety. Moreover, as prisoners spend eighteen hours inside their cell, the benefit of online support services enables them to better utilise their time and thereby increases accessibility to services. Perpetrators can be further assisted in re-shaping their identities to be non-violent individuals, provided there are appropriate and systematic responses to their efforts. Online counselling services have the potential to be integrated into the prison system, which carries the benefits of anonymity, privacy, convenience and affordability. The aim of such programs should be to modify criminal behaviours of domestically abusive men to prevent recidivism. While there is debate on whether these programs should be mandatory or merely a personal choice of the perpetrator, research demonstrates that the effectiveness of these programs is significantly greater when men decide to attend them voluntarily. In addition, research has shown that shorter prison sentences do not act as a greater deterrent for domestic violence recidivism than suspended sentences. Therefore, a rehabilitative approach needs to be given priority over a retributive model.

This paper examines the current programs available to prisoners, with emphasis upon inconsistencies and limitations to their access, including the obstacles created by exclusionary criteria and a lack of available placements. It then builds a comprehensive case for online counselling services in rehabilitating domestic violence perpetrators, as a measure to address these limitations. The necessity of including computers within cells to achieve these objectives is also highlighted. This paper posits that the provision of such services is an extremely effective remedy in rehabilitating offenders and reducing recidivism.

[1]Grech, K. & Burgess, M. (2011). Trends and patterns in domestic violence assaults: 2001 to 2010, Issue paper, no. 61, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Sydney, <www.bocsar.nsw.gov.au>.

[2] Fact File: Domestic Violence in Australia, (15 Apr 2016), ABC News, <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-04-06/fact-file-domestic-violence-statistics/7147938>.

[3]Imprisonment has no effect on domestic violence perpetrators re-offending, study finds (14 June 2016), ABC News, <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-14/prison-does-not-stop-domestic-violence-perpetrators-re-offending/7510744>.

[4]Effects of Domestic Violence, NSW Family & Community Services <http://www.community.nsw.gov.au/parents-carers-and-families/domestic-and-family-violence/effects-of-domestic-violence>


[6]Michael Brown and Philippa McDonald, NSW to spend $237 million on compulsory rehabilitation for prisoners (2016) <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-08-31/nsw-government-announces-prison-rehabilitation-package/7800708>.

[7]Breakthrough, Is Breakthrough effective? (2016) <https://www.breakthrough.com/why%2Feffectiveness>.

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