A two-session counselling programme for low-level, first time domestic abusers can cut re-offending rates by a third, a groundbreaking experiment has shown.
The trial also saw the harm suffered by victims in cases of re-offending reduced by over a quarter when the abuser had taken part in the inexpensive, charity-run scheme.
Cambridge University researchers behind the study have called on the government to roll out the programme across England and Wales in order to help victims, reduce the burden on the prison service and save money.
"Dealing with high volumes of low-harm common assault cases against intimate partners is a significant issue forpolice forces across the UK, particularly in times of continued austerity," said lead author Professor Heather Strang.
"No other programme to our knowledge now has such strong evidence of yielding a substantial reduction in harm to victims of domestic abuse."
Working in partnership with Hampshire Constabulary, a team from the university's Institute of Criminology monitored more than 100 male minor domestic abuse first-time offenders undergoing the CARA (Cautions and Relationship Abuse) programme.
Developed by the Hampton Trust domestic abuse charity, the scheme consists of two five-hour group workshops with a counsellor held a month apart where they were encouraged to reflect upon their behaviour and how they might change it.
The study only involved adult men who had received conditional cautions for first arrests for low-harm domestic abuse after admitting their offence, were not judged 'high risk', and had no record of any violence in the preceding two years.
All victims agreed to their partners' participation, while to be eligible for the experiment the offence had to be classified as either common assault/battery, criminal damage, harassment, threatening behaviour, or domestic theft.
Researchers then followed up with each participant a year on.
Their results, published in the Cambridge Journal of Evidence-Based Policing, showed 35 per cent fewer men had re-offended against their partner than offenders in a control group.
Using the Cambridge Crime Harm Index, a new means of measuring harm suffered by victims, those in the CARA group who did re-offend caused 27 per cent less harm per offender to their partners than the control group.
The team found the men who had taken part in the scheme had a greater understanding of the impact of their behaviour on partners and children.
Some knew when to walk away from a fight, while others talked of going on to attend support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous as a result.
The researchers said that several police forces want to replicate the use of the CARA course.
However, they said that current guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service restricts the use of conditional cautions for domestic abuse across the country.
Study co-author Scott Chilton, assistant chief constable of Hampshire Police and chairman of the Society of Evidence Based Policing, said: "CARA is an outstanding example of evidence based innovation that can influence national police policy and practices.
"This type of research, where professionals from law enforcement, working with academia and charitable organisations has proved to be extremely promising."
The experiment involved counsellors from the Hampton Trust, a domestic abuse charity based in Southampton, the location of the study.
Chantal Hughes, the charity's chief executive, said: "We know from consultations with victims that they want help for their partners.
"Those choosing not to remain in an intimate relationship often have children, and this means child contact arrangements. Victims have advised us that workshops such as CARA are a positive and much needed intervention."