A programme targeting recidivist violent offenders could be introduced in prisons across the country after a trial run at an Otago jail.

Nine men who undertook the short violence prevention programme graduated at the Otago Corrections Facility at the end of last month after completing 25 three-hour group sessions alongside individual counselling.

Corrections senior psychologist Ryan Perkins said he would soon hold a debriefing with the two clinicians who ran the discussions before a new cohort was taken on in August.

Mr Perkins would then scrutinise the pilot programme's merits with Corrections management before a decision was made on running it at other prisons around the country.


The initiative was aimed at high-risk offenders serving sentences too short to give them access to intensive therapy.

''One of the critical initial steps is to develop insights into which sort of challenges and emotions and thinking patterns tend to go along with that sort of violent response,'' Mr Perkins said.

Once they understood potential triggers, it was about teaching the inmates skills to deal with those situations.

Mr Perkins said the most challenging part for most prisoners was often ''thinking about their thoughts''.

''That generally is an ability that does require considerable nuance,'' he said.

''It can be quite confronting for the men to see the link between their thinking ... that led to their behaviour.''

While the programme was not designed to rehash the men's violent histories, one of the group exercises involved them taking a situation in which they had acted aggressively and talking it through.

Mr Perkins said the perspectives of other prisoners could provide them with valuable insights that one-on-one counselling may not.

Otago Corrections Facility Prison Director Lyndal Miles said while overall crime had decreased significantly in the last decade, violent, sexual and serious drug offending remained at relatively high levels.

''Violent crime has significant impact on families, the community, and on the number of people being sent to prison. Programmes like this help offenders change their behaviour and help them live crime-free in our communities. That has to be good for everyone.''

Mr Perkins said breaking a cycle of violence was a huge challenge when it had been entrenched over years, through which some men ''developed a lifestyle where violence is prominent as a problem-solving measure or a way to get their needs met''.

Those recently graduated from the pilot programme had completed questionnaires before and after the course on their attitudes and Mr Perkins said there would be ongoing tracking of their progress.