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Do Fair Procedures Matter? The Effect of Procedural Justice on Spouse Assault

NCJ Number
Law and Society Review Volume: 31 Issue: 1 Dated: (1997) Pages: 163-204
Date Published
42 pages

In an analysis of the Milwaukee Domestic Violence Experiment, the authors the perception of police procedural fairness by suspects arrested for spouse assault effectively inhibited subsequent violence.


The analysis tested five hypotheses: (1) prevalence and frequency of subsequent spouse assault would be lower for those given a warning than for those arrested if arrested offenders perceived they were treated unfairly; (2) among persons arrested for spouse assault, those who perceived they were treated unfairly would be more likely to commit future spouse assault; (3) perceived procedural fairness of the arrest would be as important as outcome of the arrest; (4) procedural fairness would inhibit subsequent spouse assault under both favorable and unfavorable outcome conditions; and (5) effect of perceived procedural fairness on reoffending would not interact with a person's take in conformity. Data collected for the Milwaukee Domestic Violence Experiment between April 1987 and August 1988 were used in the analysis. About 91 percent of suspects in the experiment were male. The dependent variable was the number of spouse assault incidents reported to the Milwaukee domestic violence hotline for each individual suspect. Consistent with expectations, procedural justice suppressed subsequent violence, even in the face of adverse outcomes. When police officers acted in a procedurally fair manner when arresting spouse assault suspects, the rate of subsequent domestic violence was significantly lower than when they did not. Moreover, suspects who were arrested and perceived they were treated in a procedurally fair manner had subsequent spouse assault rates that were as low as those for suspects given more favorable outcomes (warned and then released without arrest). The suppression effect of procedural justice did not depend on personal characteristics of suspects. Appendixes contain additional information on the analysis procedures 69 references, 10 tables, and 2 figures

Date Published: January 1, 1997