Family violence victim support programs for women prisoners
Prof. Margaret Kelaher
In response to the 2015 Royal Commission into Family Violence, launched by the Victorian Government, Corrections Victoria (CV) seeks to help reduce family violence incidents across the state. Therefore, as part of the initiative creating an environment for cultural change, CV conducted a Family Violence Prisoner Survey in 2015. The findings of the survey, consistent with previous research, demonstrated the fact that female offenders were disproportionately affected by experiences of family violence .
In response to these findings, CV identified the need for family violence victim support programs that specifically focused on the female prison population in their Family Violence Service Reform Strategy Priority Initiatives 2015–16 . The current review will further inform and strengthen CV’s strategic approach to supporting victims of family violence. The objectives of the review were to:
- strengthen CV’s understanding of ‘best practice’ principles of programs and services for victims of family violence;
- improve CV’s capacity to evaluate these programs in the future in order to better understand their impact; and
- identify and inform opportunities to further strengthen CV’s response to reducing family violence within its correctional population.
Overall the project suggested that CV is playing a leadership role in both the diversity and number of interventions offered (13) to address family violence in women’s prison. Nearly half (6) of the available programs are targeted towards Aboriginal women. This reflects both greater need among this community and a laudable focus on equity. However, the evidence base for the effectiveness of these programs is limited due to a lack of evaluation. There has also been very little research evaluating interventions to address the needs of women in prisons in the peer reviewed literature.
A number of the best practice principles identified in the literature were exemplified in current CV offerings. CV programs also shared many of the characteristics of effective programs in the literature. This was true of both mainstream programs and Indigenous programs. However, there were a number of ways CV programs could be improved. These included:
- Developing a more inclusive approach to family violence programs.
- Developing holistic family violence programs.
- Improving through care.
- Improving workforce capacity around family violence.
- Increasing the diversity of programs and the capacity of existing programs.
Overall, the review suggests that CV is tracking well in comparison other jurisdictions in terms of its family violence offerings. However, organisational change and programmatic and workforce development would support improved outcomes for family violence initiatives. There is also a pressing need to develop the evidence base around family violence programs in prison.
Professor Margaret Kelaher