Stopping Violent Offending in New Zealand: Is Treatment an Option?

By Berry, Steve | New Zealand Journal of Psychology, December 2003 | Go to article overview
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Stopping Violent Offending in New Zealand: Is Treatment an Option?


Berry, Steve, New Zealand Journal of Psychology


A quasi-experimental design using survival analysis and other measures showed that a community-based, residential treatment programme for violent offenders could significantly impact on reconviction patterns of a group of men previously convicted of serious violent offences. The results are important because of the paucity of data attesting to treatment success with serious violent offenders and, more specifically, with offenders who are Maori. The implications of these results and of the data collected on non-completers are discussed.

The notion that nothing works in treating offenders has been debunked (Cullen & Gendreau, 1989). However, the literature concerning the efficacy of specifically treating violent offenders is limited. For instance, Polaschek and Collie's (in press) review found few methodologically sound outcome studies to guide the development of violent offender programmes. In fact they located just four studies that reported violent recidivism outcome data on treated, generally violent offenders. Other authors (e.g., Berkowitz, 1993; Meloy, 1995; Polaschek & Reynolds, 2001; Quinsey, Harris, Rice & Cormier, 1998) have concluded that there is equivocal evidence of treatment efficacy with adult violent offenders and that new treatment technologies are needed.

The social and financial costs of violent offending are significant (Polaschek & Dixon, 2001). Violent offending is a particular problem for New Zealand, highlighted by Spier (2001), who reported that, although convictions for violence have shown a decreasing trend to the year 2000, the number of convictions for violent offences in 2000 was still 53% greater than the figure in 1991. Violent offending ranks as the most serious type of crime, attracting relatively much higher terms of imprisonment than other crimes (Spier, 2001). A report by the Department of Corrections (2002) reveals that imprisonment rates (per 100 000 population) in New Zealand (150) are high compared to other similar jurisdictions such as Canada (120), Australia (109), England and Wales (122) and Scotland (115). In 2000 the 2132 jailed violent offenders represented 27% of the 7931 people imprisoned in New Zealand's jails (the second largest grouping after property offenders). Re-offending is an issue because, in the two years after reconviction in 1995, 21% of violent offenders were reconvicted for a violent offence (Department of Corrections, 2002).

Maori make up just under 15% of the New Zealand population (Statistics New Zealand, 2001) but are heavily over-represented in convictions statistics. Maori offenders accounted for approximately 45% of all convictions for violent offences in 2000; Europeans accounted for about 37% and Pacific Islanders for approximately 15% of convictions for violence (Spier, 2001). The proportion of the prison population that is indigenous in New Zealand is 51%, considerably higher than comparison countries such as Canada (17%) and Australia (19.8%). Further adding to the dismay concerning these statistics for Maori is international research, such as that of Canadian researcher Zellerer (1994), that describes poor outcomes of treatment given to "aboriginals" (a term used by Zellerer). Zellerer concludes that non-native counsellors have difficulty helping even highly motivated clients.

One New Zealand initiative designed to address violent offending is the Montgomery House Violence Prevention Programme. The programme began in 1987 as a residential treatment option that employed social learning methodology in the treatment of groups of men who repeatedly commit serious violent offences. An uncontrolled evaluation, by Polaschek and Dixon (2001), using data generated by residents of the first "functional phase" (1987-1990) of the Montgomery House programme, suggested grounds for optimism that the programme was having a beneficial effect. Conviction rates for all those who started the programme were lowered in the post-programme phase and there were also some changes in the desired direction on psychometric measures.

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Stopping Violent Offending in New Zealand: Is Treatment an Option?
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