Australian Institute of Criminology

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Executive summary

In recent years, correctional administrators both in Australia and overseas have invested significant resources in the development and delivery of offender rehabilitation programs. These initiatives have occurred in the context of an impressive evidence base, attesting to the notion that such efforts are likely to have a greater impact on recidivism than incarceration alone and perhaps now, more than any time in the last 30 years, there is widespread optimism that such initiatives will help to reduce reoffending and improve community safety.

This report provides an updated account of the nature and scope of custodial-based offender rehabilitation programs in Australia. It does this in three ways—first, it describes those programs that are offered to adult offenders in public prisons throughout Australia and highlights changes that have occurred in practice since the first audit of programs was completed in 2004 (Howells et al. 2004). Second, it identifies areas of programmatic strength in relation to internationally accepted good practice criteria. Third, it describes some of the future developments that are likely to occur in the next few years and discusses some of the possible impediments to developing programs further that may exist.

The final report comprises two sections. It begins with a description of the legislative guidance and/or mandate that underpins the delivery of rehabilitation programs in each jurisdiction. This is followed by a description of the custodial-based offender rehabilitation programs that are currently offered in Australia and how these have changed over time. It concludes with a general discussion of the challenges that face service providers in the next few years. The second section provides a more detailed description of programs, reported by jurisdiction.


The methodology adopted in this study replicates that of the 2004 audit of programs (see Howells et al. 2004) which drew on data obtained from face-to-face interviews with representatives (and their nominees) from the correctional administration of each state/territory. In addition, a desktop analysis was conducted, synthesising information contained in existing program documentation and manuals supplied by each jurisdiction. Both sources of information were used to review programs against a checklist of program characteristics that was developed specifically for use in correctional program audit and accreditation.

The national picture

Each jurisdiction, without exception, has attempted to respond to the challenges that were identified in the 2004 program review. In particular, recent years have seen the development of a number of more intensive programs. These programs are supported by policy documents that articulate the evidence base supporting program delivery, the theoretical rationale for particular programs and how these are embedded within current case management and staff training frameworks (and associated policies and practices). Furthermore, each jurisdiction has demonstrated an ongoing commitment to the delivery of custodial offender treatment programs in ways that are congruent with current conceptions of ‘good practice’. There is an increased confidence in being able to move from theory through to policy and practice, especially in relation to the development of programs for sex and violent offenders. In conclusion, the overall quality of Australian offender rehabilitation programs appears to be improving, although ongoing evaluations have yet to establish the effectiveness of these programs on criminal justice outcomes.

The future challenges for offender rehabilitation providers in Australia relate to the need to ensure that a high standard of program delivery is maintained and that new programs are developed for particular offender groups (including those who identify as from Indigenous cultural backgrounds). Crucial to these challenges is the enhancement of inter-jurisdictional resource pooling and information sharing.