VIOLENCE in our streets fuelled by alcohol and the drug ice, random acts of terrorism and gang wars all create fuel for political debate.
They provide grist for the mill of law-and-order campaigns and create perceptions of which political party looks soft and which can tackle hard issues.
When ACT Minister for Women and Minister for Housing, Yvette Berry, announced a new program for perpetrators of domestic violence she turned punitive thinking on its head.
The risk is that her government will look soft on crime in an election year. A three-month sojourn to “Room4Change” sounds like a pretty soft option for a perpetrator.
However, recidivism rates across Australia indicate that conventional prisons have not been so effective at stopping such violence.
A few short years ago, in most cases, there was no punishment for perpetrators of domestic violence. The solution then transitioned to ensure arrest, put the culprits before the courts and have appropriate punishments meted out. For many cases this will remain an appropriate solution.
However, this is an extraordinarily complex area with many shades of grey. While many of the victims felt vulnerable and insecure, they are also dealing with circumstances where love and violence are mixed.
The multifarious nature of violence in the home is also much more difficult politically, which is why it was largely ignored by politicians other than to wring hands, show sympathy and agree that this sort of violence was particularly atrocious. The solution was to support media campaigns against family violence.
However, it is now impossible to ignore. Rosie Batty has provided the catalyst for action. She became the voice when her tragic story became so public. It was not just Rosie. The heartbreaking incident fell on the fertile ground of an active movement of people who had toiled for years with a commitment to stop the plague of domestic violence.
Police forces, community care, health and social workers struggled to rethink the way that they would deal with what has been framed “private” issues.
Until recently, other than advocate for campaigns and wear a white ribbon, only a small number of politicians were prepared to stand up to be counted on the issue.
Not surprisingly, the perception of a strong political response required a tough criminal justice approach with higher penalties and more effective policing.
The announcement by Ms Berry introduces a fresh approach. She is prepared to force men from their homes, away from their wives and children, and into a residential program.
The real aim of the program is not about punishment. It is about stopping the behaviour.
She says that by removing the person at risk of committing violence and enrolling them in a three-month residential program where they are supported to change their behaviour lets the rest of the family stay safe at home.
The Domestic Violence Crisis Service and Connections ACT have been the drivers of the “Room4Change” program, which is not likely to be a cheap option for taxpayers.
From the $20 million “Family Safety” program of the ACT government, “Room4Change” is receiving funding of almost $1 million. However, current expenditure to incarcerate each person who has been detained or convicted is already costing taxpayers around $100,000 a year.
The rate of re-offending of traditional imprisonment should send a message that there must be better a way. The future challenge for governments, and particularly for their corrections ministers, will be to extend such a forward thinking and innovative approach to other offences.