This report summarizes the methodology and findings of the evaluation of the Cook County Target Abuser Call (TAC), a specialized prosecution program that combines a dedicated domestic violence court, specially trained prosecutors, vertical prosecution, specialized investigators, independent domestic violence advocates, victim/witness specialists, and civil attorney services.
The TAC program focuses on high-risk, misdemeanor, intimate partner cases for the purpose of preventing the escalation of violence that characterizes many abusers. The screening criteria for determining high-risk cases are as follows: a prior history of domestic violence based on convictions, dismissals, arrests, and unreported history; injury to the woman; use of weapons with threats; and domestic battery accompanied by threats of serious harm to the woman and/or her family. The evaluation of the program compared the processes and outcomes of TAC prosecutions with those of traditional general court processing of such cases. These two systems differed in the amount of coordination, contact, and outreach given to domestic abuse victims. The study involved 103 TAC cases and 219 general court cases. The research design combined quantitative and qualitative methods, including courthouse interviews with domestic violence victims, the collection of data from court records (police reports and criminal history sheets) and court files, and case tracking for defendant rearrest and compliance with sentencing conditions. The evaluation examined traditional prosecution outcomes (e.g., conviction and arrest/rearrest rates), as well as differences in offender and victim characteristics, prior abuse characteristics, women's experiences prior to and while at court, women's sense of empowerment with the criminal justice system, women's satisfaction with the court outcome, and advocacy and service delivery outcomes. The study found that the victim appearance rate for the TAC program was 73 percent, compared to an appearance rate of 40 percent for the general court. The offenders processed under the TAC program were more likely to have a prior history of domestic violence charges and other violent crimes than the defendants in the general court. The women victims in the general court cases were more likely to want charges dropped. The women in the TAC program had substantially more contact with court personnel and were more likely to be fairly satisfied with these contacts. Seventy-one percent of TAC defendants were convicted compared to 50 percent of defendants in general court. The defendants processed in the two types of courts did not differ on the percentage rearrested for a domestic violence offense within 6 months of the target arrest (approximately one-third). Although TAC clearly met its goals of engaging more women in the prosecution process and increasing batterer accountability through higher conviction rates, the evaluation advises that TAC's resources might be better spent on the prosecution of defendants who have the potential for, but have not yet escalated to the kind of serious violent behavior that is the focus of TAC. Attention should be given to case assessment processes that suggest the potential for escalation of violence and the lethality of the violence (e.g., threats with a weapon, batterer drug or alcohol abuse, and extreme jealousy and dominance). Study limitations are discussed. Extensive tables and 56 references