Why is the government continuing to spend thousands of pounds on programmes aimed at reducing domestic abuse when they don’t know whether they work? Today Transform Justice brings out a report on reducing domestic abuse which advocates for greater use of perpetrator programmes to reduce domestic abuse. But it’s only worth using perpetrator programmes which work.
Domestic abuse is a complicated problem. For some perpetrators it is a deeply ingrained coercive behaviour, while others may have a one off fit of temper. Some people abuse family members, others their partners. Perpetrator programme are all designed to change the attitudes and behaviour of abusers.
Any ingrained criminal behaviour is difficult to shift and the evidence on domestic abuse is mixed. The results of international randomised controlled trails show that programmes have no long term impact on abuse. But some programmes do work
Probation and prison staff now deliver two completely different domestic abuse programmes – Building Better Relationships and Kaizen. They also delivered a programme called Healthy Relationships in prison for 14 years. The problem with the programmes currently being delivered as part of criminal sentences is that none of them have been evaluated. They are accredited, but that just seems to mean that their design has been approved by an expert committee and a commitment has been made to evaluate them at some stage. So how on earth do we know that these particular programmes are effective. The cautionary tale of the Core Sex Offender Treatment Programme shows why we need to evaluate programmes. From 1992, sex offenders in prison were referred to the programme, which was adapted slightly over the years but not re-evaluated. In 2016, over 20 years after the programme started, researchers found that the course was in fact exacerbating the risk of participants offending after being released from prison.
Healthy Relationships ran for many years, but was never evaluated. Building Better Relationships has been running since 2012 in prisons and probation and no evaluation of it has even got off the ground. This is a real worry, particularly since the way programmes are delivered can influence their success. The programmes which are currently part of criminal sentences may be doing more harm than good. Who knows?
This really matters because we know that criminal sanctions don’t on the whole work to reduce domestic abuse. We need to reappraise our use of criminal sentences to put more emphasis on out of court disposals and approaches, but also to focus on making criminal sanctions work better. To know whether any programmes work, we need to evaluate them properly.