Domestic Violence Programmes

MPs warned of shortfall in domestic violence programmes

A Freedom of Information request last week revealed that the average time it takes for people convicted of domestic violence to start a court ordered programme to help them change their behaviour had risen from 27 to 29 weeks.

The Home Affairs Select Committee warned of this very problem in its wide-ranging report on Domestic Violence, Forced Marriage and “Honour”-Based Violence in June 2008.

Today the Committee Chairman, Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, wrote to the Secretary of State for Justice, Rt Hon Jack Straw MP, to express his grave concerns about the lack of places on perpetrator programmes run by the prison and probation services, and to request further information on options for closing the gap.

The full text of the letter is appended.

Session 2009-2010: No. 15    
14 December 2009

Appendix: Letter from Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, Chairman Home Affairs Select Committee to Rt Hon Jack Straw MP, Secretary of State for Justice

Domestic violence perpetrator programmes

I am writing to express my great dismay at the figures made public last Friday on the waiting times for domestic violence perpetrator programmes in England and Wales. The figures, compiled by the Liberal Democrats, show that the average time for a perpetrator to start a course has risen from 27 to 29 weeks in the last four years.

The Government’s own figures, in its recently-published Together we can end violence against women and girls: a strategy, show that “over a quarter of male offenders under probation supervision and 17% of male prisoners are domestic violence perpetrators”.  This means that a huge number of violent perpetrators are being inadequately managed by the Ministry of Justice and, more importantly, that the Government is failing to protect a similar number of victims.

My committee undertook a thorough inquiry into Domestic Violence in 2007-08, which reported on 13 June 2008. Our witnesses overwhelmingly told us that there were huge capacity problems within probation-run perpetrator programmes, and a study by the National Audit Office reported that the Probation Service itself had said that they were unable to deliver these programmes.

More disturbingly, we heard that in some cases courts were being expressly prohibited from using perpetrator programmes as a sentencing option due to lack of places. And we were told that, in a number of cases, perpetrators on one- or even two-year probation orders had to wait so long to go on a programme that it was pointless for them to start it because they would not have time to conclude it. Our inquiry found that the average unit cost per perpetrator to complete a programme was £7,250, based on which it should be possible to calculate the amount needed to provide the additional places. 

These grave concerns led us to conclude:

There is a desperate shortage of places on Probation Service perpetrator programmes. The full extent of this has yet to be revealed… This is an unacceptable situation. Once research currently being undertaken by the service to identify the full extent of under-capacity has been completed, the Government urgently needs to find the resources to fill the gap. The costs of failing to protect victims from further attack by tackling the root causes of domestic abuse are far greater than the cost of funding sufficient programmes.

In written evidence, the Probation Service itself told us that “in view of the concerns raised regarding waiting times we have commissioned a research study to clarify this issue”.

The Government’s response to our Report stated:

We have monitored the waiting times it takes an offender to commence the Programme Requirement of the Order. Not all areas have long waiting lists and the waiting times are decreasing year by year.

It is deeply disappointing to learn that the serious deficiencies in provision of perpetrator programmes identified by this Committee 18 months ago have not only not improved, but-contrary to the Government’s response to our Report-have worsened.

I should be grateful if you could provide the Committee with (a) a figure for how much it would cost to lay on additional courses required to reduce the waiting times, (b) a copy of the research which the Probation Service assured us it had commissioned to determine the waiting times, and (c) an update on what action the Government is taking urgently to reduce the waiting times  and increase the number of places.

The Committee intends to return to this issue in the near future as part of its ongoing monitoring of the Government response to Domestic Violence.

Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP
Committee Chairman