Woman covering her face with a hand

According to analysis by experts at the University of Birmingham, Project CARA (Cautioning and Relationship Abuse) has had a significant impact on reducing the number of crimes committed.

The project sits within the criminal justice system as an early ‘awareness raising’ intervention. Through engagement in two workshops and feedback from victims, the intervention is designed to enable offenders to understand what domestic abuse is, the impact it has and the consequences.

The research team found that CARA had an impact not only on the number of crimes committed, but also offered a significant economic benefit, based on the calculated cost of the average domestic abuse crime. The research was funded by the Home Office and the full report has been published online.

The results suggest that the CARA workshops are effective in reducing future domestic abuse harm among low to medium risk first time offenders who admit their crime.

Professor Heather Flowe, School of Psychology

CARA was first trialled in 2013 under experimental conditions in partnership with Hampshire Constabulary, Hampton Trust and the University of Cambridge resulting in the first UK policing strategy to be evaluated under randomised control trial conditions. Conditional cautions for domestic abuse had not previously been used and remain subject to special DPP dispensation in select police forces. Gaining national recognition, CARA is now operational across 9 police forces who have received special dispensation to use conditional cautions for domestic abuse as an alternative to ‘simple cautions’.

A team from the University of Birmingham’s Institute for Global Innovation, including researchers from Psychology, Economics, and Nursing, carried out an evaluation of the first 12 months of CARA’s operation in Hampshire and the West Midlands from December 2018-November 2019, working in collaboration with the police and the Hampton Trust. Offenders were tracked over 365 days following their referral to the CARA programme.

Professor Heather Flowe from the School of Psychology who led the evaluation said, “The results suggest that the CARA workshops are effective in reducing future domestic abuse harm among low to medium risk first time offenders who admit their crime.”

Professor Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay, Director of the Centre for Crime, Justice and Policing who worked with his colleague Dr Yiannis Karavias on the impact and economic evaluation said, “Our results indicate that not only does CARA work in reducing re-offending but it also demonstrates cost effectiveness.”

Safeguarding Minister, Rachel Maclean, said: “Domestic Abuse is a horrendous crime that has a devastating impact on victims.

“The Government appreciates the important role that research can play when developing a robust understanding of what works in tackling perpetrators of domestic abuse. We are pleased to have been able to support organisations, like the University of Birmingham, in better understanding the drivers of domestic abuse.”

In the West Midlands, the team retrospectively assessed data for 539 offenders, 191 of whom took part in the programme and selected 348 others to form a matched control group. In Hampshire, 510 offenders were retrospectively assessed, of whom 218 had taken part in the programme and 292 were chosen to form a matched-control group. The aim was to find out how many individuals re-offended, and to evaluate the severity of follow-on crimes.

In the first six months, offences in the West Midlands fell by 81 per cent, with an overall reduction of 56 per cent in the first 12 months. In Hampshire, offences reduced by 39 per cent in the first six months, and by 41 per cent overall in the first 12 months. No differences in offense severity were observed in either sample.

The net economic benefits calculated in the West Midlands and Hampshire were estimated at £156.5K and £781K respectively.

Nicola Lloyd, Neighbourhood Justice Manager for West Midlands Police, said: “The University of Birmingham evaluation has demonstrated the value of CARA as an ‘early intervention’ for Domestic Abuse offenders; reducing both reoffending and escalation in offending to improve the lives of survivors. Many survivors do not want to go to court, they just want the abuse to stop and this evaluation shows that CARA can provide an effective alternative to court for first time offenders.”

Chantal Hughes, Hampton Trust Chief Executive, said: “Since the original trial in 2013 we have been keen to evaluate the impact of Project CARA across a range of demographics. CARA is designed to replace the use of simple cautions for first time offenders and to provide an enhanced criminal justice response for victims. Historically, cases meeting the CARA threshold rarely result in the offender being challenged on his/her actions and therefore has a limited impact in preventing domestic abuse and stopping the behaviour. I am confident that the University of Birmingham evaluation demonstrates that a conditional caution using CARA workshops enables the offender to be held accountable for their actions in a proportionate and meaningful way whilst respecting the views of the victim.”

Metropolitan Police Commander, Dr Alison Heydari, said: “The University of Birmingham research adds further evidence to the growing evidence base that supports the assertion that the implementation of Project CARA is having a positive impact including increased victim satisfaction, reduced domestic reoffending and sustained behavioural change of offenders. As well as the financial benefits that this piece of work has identified.

“I do believe that Project CARA could have even wider effect if it were rolled out to all forces. We must be brave and innovative and seek to exploit the potential of Project CARA. A rollout would provide an opportunity not only to widen the evidence base with the support of further research but also to make a difference by broadening out the benefits to more individuals, families and communities. The Director of the DPP is currently considering a number of factors around this including the evidence base and we await his decision on this."