Experience of domestic abuse in people in prison and on probation

A summary of evidence relating to how people in prison and on probation may be affected by domestic abuse and how services can improve outcomes for them.

Domestic violence and abuse is a major concern in England and Wales. Two million adults reported being a victim of abuse in 2017/18. Of these 1.3 million were female and 695,000 were male. Similar rates of abuse are recorded internationally.

The definition of domestic abuse

The cross-government definition of domestic violence and abuse is any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can be, but is not limited to:

  • psychological
  • physical
  • sexual
  • financial
  • emotional

Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.

Coercive behaviour is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten the victim.

The impact of domestic abuse can be significant and long lasting. It can affect people in a range of ways. Experiencing domestic abuse can lead to:

  • substance misuse
  • self-harm
  • mental health problems like depression, anxiety and post traumatic disorder (PTSD)

What can we do to improve outcomes for those affected by domestic abuse?

Some people in custody and under probation supervision are affected by domestic abuse. There are things we can do to improve outcomes for them:

  • provide the opportunity to disclose abuse
  • provide the opportunity to ask for and receive help and support
  • ensure they receive a sensitive and safe response
  • recognise and meet the safeguarding needs of children affected by domestic abuse
  • referral and support to access appropriate services to meet needs

Appropriate services include:

Advocacy services which help explore and access services in the community and identity and achieve personal goals. These can improve well-being and reduce chances of physical re-abuse of those who have suffered domestic violence.

Short-term trauma-focussed counselling or cognitive-behavioural approaches to treating trauma, which can improve the health of survivors of domestic abuse.

Further reading

Cross Government Definition and Guidance on Domestic Violence

Domestic abuse in England and Wales: year ending March 2018 Office for National Statistics (2018)

MOJ research (2013) Many prisoners have experienced or witnessed domestic abuse as children. These prisoners are more likely to be reconvicted within one year of release. This demonstrates the importance of considering individual characteristics and backgrounds in assessing risk of reoffending and suitability for interventions. This is because risk factors like these (and for example care history) can be established at a young age.

Research indicates that rates of domestic abuse are high in LGBT+ groups. Additional research on LGBT+ victims of domestic abuse is published by Stonewall and the Government Equalities Office (GEO).

Published analysis links the extent of abuse with adverse experiences. These include:

  • poor mental and physical health
  • disability
  • substance misuse
  • poverty
  • debt
  • poor housing
  • homelessness

Better Outcomes - A guide to working with Former Sex Workers and Victims of Domestic Abuse (2015)

Better Outcomes for Women Offenders (2015) What works to support women who have experienced domestic violence.

Women’s Aid Survivor’s Handbook This provides practical support and information for women experiencing domestic abuse.

This page summarises the available evidence base and is informed by independent academic peer review. It does not represent Ministry of Justice or Government policy.

Published 15 May 2019