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Domestic Violence Prevention:Online Services for Prisoners

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Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that is offered to prisoners broadly across Australia.[1] The therapy entails detailed theoretical and empirical rationales that address how psychological thought can be distorted, failing to reflect reality accurately. Moreover, the program assumes that most people can become conscious of their own thoughts and behaviours, which encourages positive change to occur.[2] Multiple studies have shown that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy programs encourage offenders to improve their social skills, critical and moral reasoning as well as their impulse management.[3] CBT has been brought online outside of prisons; therefore the request to bring it online inside of prisons is not a stretch.

[1] Better Health Channel, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy <https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/cognitive-behaviour-therapy>.

[2]National Institute of Justice, ‘Preventing Future Crime with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’ (2010) <http://www.nij.gov/journals/265/pages/therapy.aspx>.



A vast array of research has been conducted on the employment of CBT for people who have committed a sex offence.[1] CBT has significant effects in both community and institutional settings, the former being more effective. Higher recidivism rates were found in the majority of the untreated (27%) samples when compared to treated (19%) samples. Additionally, the participation of CBT has a lower drop out rate (about one third) compared to treatments that involve medication such as hormonal treatments, which have a refusal rate of approximately 66% and a higher drop out rate (50%).[2] This superior compliance rate suggests that the use of CBT has a distinct practical advantage. Hall et al. suggests that the distinctions in compliance rates may be due to the invasiveness of hormonal treatments (i.e. intramuscular injections) and their suppressant effect on not only deviant, but also appropriate forms of sexual arousal. [3]

A study by Maletzky and Steinhauser utilised five-year follow-ups over 25 years of 7,275 sexual offenders in the United States who participated in a CBT program. Results indicated that most offenders responded positively to CBT when provided in individual and group therapy as measured by self-reports, criminal records reviews, and, when available, by polygraph assessments.[4] There appears to be robust and converging empirical evidence that CBT is a highly effective treatment to reduce recidivism in sex offenders.[5]

It appears that CBT is more effective at lowering recidivism rates and providing successful rehabilitation to sex offenders. It has been suggested that offering the CBT programs online will only increase their effectiveness and rehabilitation efforts.[6] The effectiveness of online counselling was shown through the continued participant improvement following completion.[7]

[1] Justice Action, ‘Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: Thinking For Change Against Crime’ (2012) <http://www.justiceaction.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=602:cognitive-behaviour-therapy&catid=46&Itemid=1117> [5.1].


[3] ibid quoting Hall, G. N. C. (1995). Sexual Offender Recidivism Revisited: A meta-analysis of recent treatment studies. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 63, pp. 802-809.

[4]Ibid quoting Maletzky, B. M. and Steinhauser, C. (2002). A 25-Year Follow-Up of Cognitive/Behavioural Therapy With 7,275 Sexual Offenders. Behaviour Modification, 26pp. 123–147.

[5]For more information regarding Cognitive Behavioural Therapy see Justice Action above n 60.

[6]Justice Action, ‘Online Counselling in Prison Cells’ (2014) <http://www.justiceaction.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=358&Itemid=1183> [2.2].

[7]Ibid quoting Wagner, Horn and Maercker study. 


A core underpinning of recidivism for domestic violence is the ability for perpetrators to unlearn violent behaviours and underlying attitudes attributed to violence.[1] Most programs would see education as having a role in the rehabilitation process, yet many Men’s Behaviour Change (MBC) facilitators do not have a formal qualification background in adult education.[2]

Some of the basic principles that create a foundation for these programs include:

  • Identifying the competences of the services to rehabilitate and control behaviours and attitudes that cause domestic violence;
  • Accepting that individuals have different learning styles and subsequently accommodating those styles; and
  • Undertaking programs with a learning environment that is not just cognitive but involves understanding of deeper issues.

There is some discussion whether the current programs offered actively support these foundations, and in order to address them there is a need for a diverse range of practitioners from equally diverse backgrounds to better cover underlying issues and to provide a support medium rather than a force of change. This requires practitioners to appeal to a sense of safety, connectivity, care and an active desire to participate. Online Services by nature may be better equipped to effectively address these issues as the AIC commented that online services provide a greater scope for inmates to opt in when they are ready, rather than being compelled to participate in face-to-face programs on strict time schedules.[3]

[1]Rodney Vlais, Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programs: Education, Therapy, Support, Accountability or Struggle, No To Violence Victoria <http://ntv.org.au/wp-content/uploads/140409-Elements-of-DV-perpetrator-program-work.pdf>.


[3]Partnership Against Domestic Violence, Commonwealth of Australia, Model Domestic Violence Laws Report (1999) <http://wesnet.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/ xxdomesticreport.pdf>.


Anger management and Batterer groups interpret anger as the trigger to domestic violence and hence, targets it as a problem to address. Perpetrators are individually assessed by Australian services as to their suitability or group membership and if they pass, are required to attend 1-1.5 hours per week for 8-26 weeks. In these groups, both one male and one female facilitator manage and act as role models for appropriate behaviour. However, there are limitations to this approach. The individual assessment by services for eligibility has been criticised as an insufficient measure as it singles out 95% of other offenders who do not receive such help. Such groups have also been criticised on the grounds that perpetrators do not stop violence, and instead learn to be subtler in their abuse, as there is a tendency to result in victims being identified as the catalyst for triggering the anger and violence. Further issues surrounding the accurate measurement of criminogenic needs and outcomes obstruct the ability to evaluate treatment outcomes and mechanisms of change for offenders.[1]

[1]Bowen, E., Gilchrist, E. & Beech, A. R. (2008). Change in Treatment Has No Relationship With Subsequent Reoffending in U.K. Domestic Violence Sample: A Preliminary Study. Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 52(5), 598-614.


As an alternative to perpetrator programs, couple counselling is typically seen as a service in which domestic violence is revealed and the counsellor then offers intervention for the couple. However, there is not enough research in regards to couples counselling and the ability to overcome domestic violence. It is instead seen as an approach more likely to be used by more advantaged groups to avoid exposure or confrontation in a traditional group setting. In the case study of ‘Ross’ who was a physically and emotionally violent perpetrator, couples counselling allowed him to reconcile his relationship with his wife and reduce his anger and irritability.[1] While there is a small amount of research proposing couple counselling as an alternative to group domestic violence programs, many of them look at domestic violence through a social system perspective and suggest that violence is a problem within the family, not just the perpetrator. Couples counselling can pose risks to the safety and wellbeing of the victim, as women have reported being subject to violent behaviour after exposing abuse during counselling sessions.[2] The lack of safety and support surrounding counselling leads it to being an unreliable method for rehabilitating offenders.

[1] Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland, Our Journal, 2014,10.

[2]Domestic Violence Prevention Centre, Getting Help for Abusive Behavior <http://www.domesticviolence.com.au/pages/getting-help-for-abusive-behaviours.php>.

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