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Prosecuting Domestic Violence Cases With Reluctant Victims: Assessing Two Novel Approaches in Milwaukee

NCJ Number
Date Published
156 pages
Two projects funded by the National Institute of Justice examined domestic violence experiments in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; the first experiment evaluated the effectiveness of a special domestic violence court that opened in September 1994, and the second experiment assessed the impact of a change in the district attorney's screening policy that admitted more cases into the special court.
The primary intent of the special domestic violence court was to speed up the disposition of cases in order to reduce backlogs, reduce the amount of time the victim had to change her mind about prosecution, and reduce opportunities for pretrial violence. The goal of the liberalized prosecutorial screening policy was to determine whether arrests normally rejected by the district attorney for prosecution because victims failed to attend the prosecutor's charging conference could still be successfully prosecuted. Data to evaluate both projects were obtained from case records and victim interviews to assess process and impact components. Findings showed the experiment with a special court for domestic violence cases was largely successful. Convictions increased by about 25 percent. Fewer convicted defendants were sentenced to jail terms after the new court began, but increased convictions at least meant more defendants were getting into treatment programs. Although the prevalence of pretrial crime declined, victim satisfaction with various aspects of the criminal justice process did not increase. In the second experiment, prosecuting a larger proportion of domestic violence arrests did not result in any observable benefits and instead produced some undesirable consequences, such as bringing into the court system a larger proportion of cases with victims who were not interested in seeing the defendant prosecuted and increased case processing time. The survey instrument used in domestic violence victim interviews and information on characteristics of domestic violence victims are appended. 31 references, 23 tables, and 12 figures

Date Published: January 1, 1997