Does Prosecution Reduce Violence Between Intimate Partners?

Joel H. Garner, Joint Center for Justice Studies, Inc.

Research Grant, 2007

Objectives: This research uses existing data from prior studies to assess the relationship between the prosecution, conviction, and sentencing of offenders and repeat intimate partner violence. A secondary focus is to determine whether the effectiveness of criminal justice interventions is conditioned upon an offender’s stakes in conformity (i.e., employment, marriage, etc.).

Finding 1: Prior research has reported that criminal prosecution and conviction for intimate partner violence is rare or infrequent but our systematic review of 135 English-language studies from six countries found that, on average, one-third of all reported offenses and three-fifths of all arrests for intimate partner violence result in the filing of criminal charges. In addition, we found that half of all prosecutions result in a conviction (Garner and Maxwell, forthcoming 2009).

Finding 2: A detailed review of thirty published studies determined that the predominant finding reported in this literature is that prosecution, conviction. and sentence severity have no statistically significant effect on repeat incidents of intimate partner violence.

Finding 3: When prosecution and conviction do have a statistically significant effect, the findings are inconsistent but more findings favor a reduction in repeat offending than favor an increase in repeat offending. The statistically significant effects for the severity of sanctions are about evenly split between reduced and increased repeat offending.

We found that half of all prosecutions result in a conviction

Caveat 1: Findings 2 and 3 stem from research studies that use heterogeneous samples of cases, different indicators of criminal justice interventions, diverse measures of repeat offending, and a variety of bivariate and multivariate statistical tests that may generate limited rigor and insufficient statistical power to determine the effectiveness of criminal justice interventions.

This research is ongoing and additional products will be available during 2008.

Preliminary Finding 1: Automated data on the characteristics of the offenders, sanctions, and repeat offending are available from fourteen out of thirty published studies. The automated data include common measures of offender characteristics and sanctions; there are few common measures of repeat offending in the available data.

Preliminary Finding 2: Our re-analysis of data on 3,662 arrests collected by Wooldredge and Thistlethwaite show consistent support for the crime control effects of filing charges, for obtaining a conviction, and for sentencing offenders to probation (Garner and Maxwell 2008).

Preliminary Finding 3: The effects of jail sentences vary from no effect to an increase in repeat offending, depending upon the sample used, the sanctions compared, and the use of statistical controls to address the selection of higher risk offenders for jail sentences (Garner and Maxwell 2008).

  1. Garner, Joel H. and Christopher D. Maxwell. "The Crime Control Effects of Prosecuting Intimate Partner Violence in Hamilton, County Ohio." Final Report to the National Institute of Justice. 2008.

  2. Garner, Joel H. and Christopher D. Maxwell. "Prosecution and Conviction Rates for Intimate Partner Violence." Criminal Justice Review (Forthcoming 2009).

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