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Asymptotic Justice: Probation as a Criminal Justice Response to Intimate Partner Violence

NCJ Number
Violence Against Women Volume: 8 Issue: 1 Dated: January 2002 Pages: 6-34
Date Published
January 2002
29 pages

This article explores the effects and potential of probation as an alternative to incarceration for domestic violence crimes.


Despite changes made to the criminal justice system in the last two or three decades, most abusers will not be incarcerated for long periods of time. Judges and juries are prone to want to help abusers before punishing them. This research is exploratory in nature, using case studies based on review of probation files, court observations, and victim interviews in Clinton County, New York. The hypothesis is that getting an initial sentence of probation for abusers is more likely than having abusers sent to jail and that probation can be used to keep a close eye on them. In this analysis, a frequent response from victims was that they do not want their abusers arrested but they want them to get help. Judges believe that incarceration can hurt victims more by removing a breadwinner from the picture, and that substance abuse rehab and other types of counseling can help both the abusers and the victims more than incarceration can. The criminal justice system and the victims only want the violence to stop. Many of the men benefited from the system’s unwillingness or inability to give harsh sentences to abusers. Probation can be useful in that, though it will not actually fix abusers, it can serve as a sort of timeout or holding pattern. If abusers are given the opportunity to fix themselves through probation supervision rather than jail but then continue to be abusive, the victims and the courts may be more likely to send them to jail. Under probation supervision, abusers will be watched and the victim may well be safer than under the otherwise likely unsupervised release. Given the realities of the criminal justice response to abuse, probation is a useful tool in punishing individual abusers, protecting individual victims, and perhaps encouraging individual and general deterrence, although no empirical evidence can be offered for that. In some cases, the intervention of the system has checked abusive behavior for a while and perhaps reduced it. 61 references

Date Published: January 1, 2002