In an Australian first, Bond University is set to launch an Australian Centre for Arson Research and Treatment (ACART) that will focus on the research and treatment of deliberate firesetting.
With the assistance of funding from the Commonwealth Attorney General’s department, the Centre’s aim is to produce research designed to inform best practice for the assessment, treatment, and management of arsonists in Australia.
Directed by two of Australia’s foremost arson experts, Dr Rebekah Doley and Dr Katarina Fritzon, it will offer a pilot treatment program targeting deliberate firesetting behaviours in juveniles (over 14 years old) and adults.
Dr Fritzon said it is the first time funding has been made available in this area in Australia.
“There has been growing concern both nationally and internationally about the gap in arson literature and research,” said Dr Fritzon.
“Compared to the huge body of research around violent or sexual offenders, arsonists haven’t received much attention to date, which is surprising, given the enormous loss the nation has endured at their hands over the years.
“This very important funding came about following the National Forum for the Prevention of Bushfire Arson held in the aftermath of 2009’s Black Saturday bushfires, and it represents a clear signal from the government that deliberate firesetting is something they want to tackle,” she said.
Dr Fritzon said current treatment models for arsonists fail to address critical aspects of their behaviour.
“Currently, convicted arsonists undergo a generic behaviour modification program that focuses on developing their cognitive skills and problem solving, which are all important factors, but there are other equally important factors that are not being addressed.
“Our model is based on theoretical work that explores different functions or motives for arson that the current treatment models don’t reach,” said Dr Fritzon.
While the Centre’s initial focus will be on the arson treatment program, there are also plans to develop risk assessment instruments that predict the likelihood of first-time arsonists becoming serial offenders, along with a screening program for voluntary fire-fighters to determine their propensity to light fires.
Through collaborations with international organisations and individuals, particularly in Scotland and the United States, the research undertaken by the Centre will be helping to fill a gap in the field of assessment and treatment of arsonists worldwide.
ACART is calling for individuals over the age of 14 years who have been convicted of arson, or for whom family members hold concern, to take part in their pilot 22-week treatment program.