SUSPECTED domestic abusers who walk free from police custody are to be offered special courses to change their behaviour.
Strathclyde Police will fund two pilot schemes targeting men who come to the attention of the authorities but against whom there is no evidence for a criminal conviction.
The initiative, to be launched next month, comes after The Herald revealed earlier this year that a quarter of men taken into custody after officers have attended a domestic violence incident are released without charge.
Campbell Corrigan, Strathclyde's Acting Chief Constable, said: "We managed to get funding in place to launch an offender management system that will deal with those who are not going to court. Sometimes we can't get the evidence to prosecute; that is not our fault, or the court's fault or the victim's fault.
"But what is the point of letting that person out of custody to go home, angrier and more self-assured that they had not done anything? Let's go and work with them."
Sacro, a charity that works to reduce reoffending, will lead the two pilots, in North Ayrshire and Drumchapel, Glasgow.
The organisation already deals with court-mandated programmes for domestic abusers but believes its scheme is the first, at least in the west of Scotland, to handle (usually) men who have been in custody but been "libbed" or "no-actioned" by the procurator fiscal.
Sacro workers will go to the cells and speak to suspected abusers before they leave for home – and sign them up for its programme, voluntarily.
The two-year schemes will initially target 32 offenders at a time, 16 in Ayrshire and 16 in Drumchapel, with 20 weeks of group sessions targeting controlling attitudes and problems with drink and anger.
This will be modelled on Sacro's Caledonian Principles scheme for male domestic abusers who have been convicted. Keith Hastie, Sacro's national services support manager, stressed the scheme would be adopted for "low-level" offenders.
He said: "Evidence suggests group work for these men is the most effective. But each person will have to be assessed to see if it is right for them."
Other agencies will also be involved, with Assist, the Glasgow group set up to help with abused or vulnerable partners, about to go Strathclyde-wide.
Mhairi McGowan of Assist said victims or complainers would need substantial support while their partners or former partners went through the 20-week scheme.
"Sometimes their behaviour may escalate when they are on such a course," said Ms McGowan.
Mr Corrigan hopes some men who have not been caught up in the justice system may volunteer for the scheme. Experts believe such patterns of behaviour can be changed before they lead to serious criminality. For some men, such schemes could be lifesavers, saving relationships and steering them away from trouble. Crucially, said Ms McGowan, they offer hope to victims.
Re-offending rates for domestic abuse are known to be high, at more than 60%. Police and other authorities have claimed to have a zero tolerance approach to such offences with accused men almost certain to be held in cells overnight.
However, a recent study showed 24% of them were released the following day without action.
Scottish Women's Aid argue this practice could put women at risk.
Mr Corrigan, meanwhile, said he believed crime statistics were now beginning to more accurately reflect the scale of domestic violence after figures surged due to concerted efforts to encourage reporting.
There were nine female domestic violence homicide victims in 2011-12. Three men also died at the hands of their partners or exes. Women who suffer at the hands of men account for four out of five domestic abuse victims.