Implementation and Effectiveness of In-Prison Programs for Intimate Partner Violence Perpetrators: Evidence From Spain

Published date01 June 2023
AuthorJorge Rodríguez-Menés
Date01 June 2023
Subject MatterArticles
CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR, 2023, Vol. 50, No. 6, June 2023, 806 –829.
Article reuse guidelines:
© 2023 International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology
Evidence From Spain
Universitat Pompeu Fabra
The article describes the supply and demand of programs for imprisoned perpetrators of intimate partner violence and their
consequences on recidivism in a Spanish penal system with multiple interventions. Four aspects are studied with descriptive,
multinomial, survival, and canonical correlation analyses—programs’ features (number, content, duration, combinations, com-
pliance); users and nonusers’ characteristics (socioeconomic profiles, criminological histories, incarceration experiences); the
ensuing outcomes (prison behavior and postrelease recidivism); and the profiles of the clients benefiting the most and least
from them. The results show great heterogeneity in program supply and in how they are taken, and marked differences in the
profiles of nonusers and users of programs of different durations. This helps interpret the main finding that short-program users
have lower rates of recidivism, partly due to the programs’ more appropriate formats and partly due to the users’ less problem-
atic characteristics and higher opportunities to take them. Policy recommendations are accordingly made.
Keywords: domestic violence; intimate partner violence; treatment programs; recidivism
The design and implementation of programs for intimate partner violence (IPV) perpe-
trators are relatively recent phenomena. The evidence reviewed below suggests that their
efficacy for reducing IPV recidivism is small in rigorous evaluations. Several reasons might
explain such small efficacy, from non-evidence-based designs informed by so-called “one-
size-fits-all” strategies that do not discriminate among perpetrators’ heterogeneous needs,
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I am grateful to the Secretaria de Mesures Penals, Reinserció i Atenció a les Víctimes of
the Departament de Justícia of the Generalitat de Catalunya for giving me access to their data registries and
for their continuous support for this research. This research has been funded by the Spanish “Ministerio de
Ciencia e Innovación,” as part of the project “The life-course of aggressors and victims of intimate partner
violence.” (Grant PID2021-125035OB-I00). Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to
Jorge Rodríguez-Menés, Department of Political and Social Sciences, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Ramón Trías
Fargas 25, Barcelona 08005, Spain; e-mail:
1164962CJBXXX10.1177/00938548231164962Criminal Justice and BehaviorRodríguez-Menés / IN-PRISON PROGRAMS FOR IPV PERPETRATORS IN SPAIN
to convoluted implementations resulting in selective program participation and completion.
The article focuses on implementation, as the criminal justice system under investigation
offers a great variety of programs for IPV perpetrators with heterogeneous profiles.
Furthermore, it focuses on programs for perpetrators in custody, by following for over 3
years a complete cohort of individuals incarcerated for an IPV crime during a 5-year period
in the Spanish region of Catalonia. The main purpose of the article is to investigate the
many ways in which these programs are offered and taken by individuals with distinct traits
and the possibly ensuing consequences on prison conduct and recidivism. The study sheds
light on the possible reasons for IPV programs’ inefficiencies. As Spain is currently at the
vanguard of the fight against IPV, its findings may yield useful lessons for other countries.
The programs for IPV perpetrators started in the United States and Canada in the 1970s
and spread worldwide in the 1980s and 1990s (Barner & Carney, 2011). In many criminal
justice systems, they have become compulsory for nonincarcerated IPV perpetrators and
have remained optional for those being incarcerated (Barner & Carney, 2011; Jovanovic,
2019). This article focuses on the least evaluated programs for the latter (Cannon et al.,
2016) because individuals in custody have more complex problems. They commit more
severe and high-risk crimes due to their typically more complex psychopathological pro-
files (García-Jiménez et al., 2014). Or they are more likely to recidivate and not to comply
with community sanctions (Day et al., 2014; Pascual-Leone et al., 2011), often due to the
higher vulnerability and visibility accrued to their characteristically unprivileged socioeco-
nomic status (Cunha & Gonçalves, 2018).
Another reason is that it is easier to assess the efficacy of voluntary programs for indi-
viduals in custody than of compulsory programs for individuals sentenced to community
sanctions. The latter often lack the necessary motivation to change (Carbajosa et al., 2017;
Crane & Eckhardt, 2013; Lila et al., 2018; Santirso et al., 2020). They may perceive pro-
grams to be a punishment instead of a tool for personal change (Enosh et al., 2013; Ramsey,
2015; Stuart et al., 2007), which in some cases may lead to victim’s re-abuse in retribution
(Iyengar, 2009). However, analyzing voluntary programs for perpetrators in custody may
introduce selection effects linked to the traits of those of them who choose to take or com-
plete them (Pascual-Leone et al., 2011).
The latest meta-analytical evidence indicates that programs for IPV perpetrators have a
small efficacy (Akoensi et al., 2013; Arce et al., 2020; Arias et al., 2013; Babcock et al.,
2004, 2016; Eckhardt et al., 2013; Feder et al., 2008; Ferrer-Perez & Bosch-Fiol, 2018;
Wilson et al., 2021), with some exceptions (Gannon et al., 2019). Much of this evidence
refers to the court-mandated programs for perpetrators receiving community sanctions. The
few evaluations of programs for incarcerated perpetrators (McNeeley, 2019; Mennicke
et al., 2015; Millana, 2011; Pascual-Leone et al., 2011) suggest that their efficacy is higher
(Ferrer-Perez & Bosch-Fiol, 2018), perhaps because, as noted above, they are voluntary and
not seen as punishments. Most of this evidence cannot be generalized because the programs
being evaluated differ in content, formats, and clients, and because the evaluations examine
different outcomes and use different methods.

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