DOMESTIC VIOLENCE – TREATMENT IN ISRAELI PRISONS
Commander Shalva Cohen,
Department of Education, Therapy and Rehabilitation,
Israel Prison Service
Domestic violence, usually wielded by the father and husband, is well- known to both Israeli and Arab society, but for a long time has been deemed the intimate and private problem of the family itself and not a matter in which public institutions should concern themselves. Israeli Society did not feel that it could legitimately probe into the family fabric in defence of the victims of that violence. Only recently has it become accepted that women and children are not the husband’s and father’s to do with them as he likes.
Women’s voluntary organizations such as WIZO and NA’AMAT began the fight to expose the phenomenon and make it legitimate for women to complain and protect themselves, a commitment that has now become part of public welfare policy and services.
A violent man will find many excuses for his behavior: putting the blame on the wife or children who aggravated him to violence; blaming alcohol or drugs, so that he was not responsible for his actions; growing up in a family that settled its internal problems by violence, and thus learning to solve difficulties by shouting, hitting and physical force.
Experience has taught us that the child-victim of violence from his parents or elder brothers will practice what he has been taught on his younger siblings. This habit will then be carried into the kindergarten and school and physical force will become, throughout his life in society, the way in which he will maintain his status and secure his wants. In particular, becoming a member of a street gang is a sure way to becoming a violent husband and father. In prisons, containing as they do, persons mainly from the weak, the failed, the deviant section of society, violence is very widespread between prisoner and prisoner, between prisoners and staff, and between prisoners and their family. The IPS, being one component of the social services network in Israel, perceives it its duty, over and above its prime function of removing criminals from society and holding them in custody, to take advantage of the prison term to treat, educate and rehabilitate prisoners. It has three aims:
* To reduce the damage done by imprisonment;
* To exploit imprisonment to diagnose, identify and treat the difficulties that have caused the individual to get into conflict with the law;
* To detect the personal resources the prisoner lacks so as to provide him the tools, education and social skills to enable him to lead a proper family and social life, as long as that is what he wants to do.
The use of violence in general, and violence towards family members in particular, is one of the problems that the IPS has decided to tackle. It has set up a network of services and facilities for treatment and rehabilitation, as follows.
The Facilities and Services Set up by the Prison Service
Location and Identification of Prisoners with a Record of Domestic Violence
The first step in the treatment process, is to locate these needing rehabilitation:
* Prisoners convicted of violent offenses;
* Prisoners serving sentences for other offenses, but who are are known, from attempts to treat them, to have a problem of domestic violence.
The Training of Prison Social Workers
In every prison, one or two social workers have been appointed as treatment coordinators for the problem of domestic violence. Social workers have been selected for training in conducting treatment groups. A one-year on-the-job training program has been put together for social workers to train in diagnosis and casework and group dynamics approaches to the problem. The program includes frontal lectures and group instruction by a psychologist from the NA’AMAT Center for the Treatment of Domestic Violence.
Part Two of the above program concentrates on cognitive behavioral methods of controlling anger and is directed by a psychologist who has trained in such methods in the U.S.A.
It is anticipated that one of the above two approaches or an eclectic combination of both will provide the right treatment for each individual prisoner.
Open or closed treatment groups have been established in every prison, and offer a place to every prisoner willing to take advantage of them. During 1993-94, 150 prisoners completed a treatment program in some fifteen such groups. At present, another six groups, containing sixty prisoners, are in operation.
For those prisoners unable or unwilling to fit into a group, casework is available.
Care of the Families of Violent Prisoners
Parallel to the treatment of the prisoner during his incarceration, attention must be paid to:
* Forestalling risk to the prisoner’s family during his periods of home leave or on his release, if he himself has not undergone treatment;
* Supporting the wife, both by modifying her behavior as victim and by strengthening her self-esteem and her ability to cope with her husband’s inclination to violence. Other members of the family may also be included in this aspect of the treatment.
The Prison Service’s endeavor to set up treatment groups in the community for prisoners’ wives is still in its infancy, partly because the wives are scattered all over the country. Recently, the Service has come to an agreement with the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority that the wife of every prisoner undergoing treatment for domestic violence will be, as far as possible, found a place in a community program dealing with this issue, whether in a group or casework setting.
Examining Treatment Outcomes: Relations with Family and Cell-Mates
Relations with Family
Treatment outcomes could only be ascertained, naturally, when the prisoner went on home leave. Both prisoners and wives report an improvement in the husbands’ dealings with spouse and children, as compared to his behavior before commencing treatment. They reported that he had begun to learn to treat his wife as a person with needs, feelings and a will of her own, to make an effort to improve the relationship in place of seeking control, to understand the need for a mutually satisfying relationship rather than one-sided satisfaction.
In some of the prison groups, the wives joined the final stages of the course so that the couple could learn to talk over difficulties instead of resorting to violence.
Relations Between Cell Mates
During incarceration, cell mates are in many ways equivalent to the prisoner’s family outside. As in the violence-prone family, so in the cell, the strong frequently dominate and exploit the weak and seek personal satisfaction with no thought to the needs of others or to the general quality of life in the cell.
During the course of several of the treatment groups, participants requested to be allowed to share a cell so that they could preserve and work over the confidences voiced during group sessions. This was granted and proved of real benefit.
Since changes in mutual dealings within the cell are another indicator of treatment outcomes, we present here the changes reported:
* A reduction in the use of force and violence to solve problems;
* More talking-over of difficulties;
* More willingness to listen to the other’s point of view and consider his needs;
* An increase of efforts to keep the cell clean and tidy; rules of behavior were agreed upon.
Protecting the Families of Violent Prisoners whose Behavior Has Not Changed
Disallowing Home Leave and Parole
Where a prisoner has made no change in his behavior and is still deemed "violent", before he is allowed home leave the prison social worker will request the social worker for his home neighborhood to check on the family situation and give an opinion on the likelihood of violence, should he be allowed home. The second social worker will ascertain if he has recently threatened the wife or children or if they are in anxiety at the prospect of his return. If, in his/her opinion, the family are at risk, then the leave will either be cancelled or made conditional on the prisoner staying away from the family home.
Unconditional home leave will be permitted when all the professionals concerned are convinced of an improvement in the prisoner’s behavior and a reduction in the risk to the family.
As in the case of home leave, until and unless all the professionals concerned are convinced of an improvement in the prisoner’s behavior and a reduction of the risk to the family, no release on parole will be approved except on condition that the paroled prisoner stay away from the family home. In other cases, early release is made conditional on the prisoner and his family attending their local Center for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. This may be done even if the prisoner has been attending a treatment course in the prison but is deemed to need more treatment.
Summary and Conclusions
* The Prison Service’s attention to the problem of the sources of domestic violence is part of wider society’s appreciation that the subject must be tackled seriously.
* In many cases, it is the man’s very tendency to violence that has brought him into conflict with the law and to imprisonment. In other words, his re-education will not only prevent his victimization of members of his family but rehabilitate him from a criminal way of life.
* Although the Prison Service’s efforts in this regard are only two years old, they have shown signs of being able to bring about behavioral change, replace problem-solving by force with verbal communication and mutual understanding, and significantly reduce the danger to wife and children.
* The basis of the Service’s program has been, and must continue to be, integration
– of the Service’s resources with those of agencies in the community;
– of treatment of the husband in prison and that of his wife and children at home;
– of treatment of the husband during his incarceration and his continued treatment after release;
– of therapy for the husband if he is willing and protection for the family victims where he is not.