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Keywords:

  • prosecution;
  • domestic violence;
  • intimate partner violence;
  • therapeutic jurisprudence;
  • and prosecutorial policy

Research Summary

Differences in outcomes for domestic violence cases were compared across two court jurisdictions, one that employed victim-centered prosecutorial policies and one that employed evidence-based prosecutorial policies. Evidence-based prosecutorial policies argue that the reoccurrence of violence is deterred through the certain, swift, and severe punishment of offenders, whereas victim-centered prosecutorial policies claim that the reoccurrence of violence declines when victims interact with court officials who provide them with the opportunity to participate actively and provide input into the court's actions. Overall, 170 victims were interviewed at three time points (intake, disposition, and 6 months after disposition) to assess levels of court empowerment, reoccurrence of physical violence and psychological aggression, and perception of safety reported by victims. The results indicate that cases in the evidence-based policy jurisdiction, compared with the victim-centered policy jurisdiction, were significantly more likely to report reoccurrence of physical violence and psychological aggression. Victims who experienced physical violence during the 6 months after case disposition perceived themselves as less safe (i.e., they reported that physical violence was more likely to occur in the future).

Policy Implications

Interest in the positive and negative effects of prosecutorial policies on the lives of domestic violence victims involved in the justice process has been growing. Currently, the dual aims of the justice process are to assure offender accountability and to enhance victim safety, and two distinct policy approaches have emerged (mandatory prosecution and victim-centered prosecution) to accomplish these aims. The current study examines the influence of each policy on revictimization and perceptions of safety of domestic violence victims rather than official measures of offender recidivism, thus informing policy makers of the broader impact of prosecutorial policies on the lives of victims. The results suggest that victim-centered polices yield better outcomes for domestic violence victims than evidence-based policies. This finding has implications for jurisdictions considering whether to adopt evidence-based policies, and it suggests that careful consideration be given to their implementation if their effect is to regard victims primarily as witnesses to a crime and they do not make efforts to encourage, educate, and support victims throughout the court process. As victim-centered prosecutorial policies are rooted in the theory of therapeutic jurisprudence, our findings suggest that justice professionals be encouraged to think more broadly about how involvement with the justice process can foster the improved well-being of victims. Although the current study was conducted in traditional courts, the number of specialty courts that addresses domestic violence is growing nationally, and the findings suggest this is a positive development.