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 the time the victim had to change her mind about prosecution, and reduce opportunities for pretrial violence. The liberalized prosecutorial screening policy was intended 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. Milwaukee officials reasoned fewer defendants would threaten or harm victims and fewer victims would change their minds about cooperating with authorities if they could simply reduce the amount of time it took to dispose of domestic violence cases. Data obtained from case records and victim interviews showed the special domestic violence court was generally successful. Case processing time was substantially reduced after the court began, and this reduction was the result of applying speedy trial concepts to domestic violence cases. Convictions increased with the new court, indicating more defendants were getting into treatment programs. Less frequent use of jail time by the new court was consistent with victim desires. The prevalence of pretrial crime declined after the start of the court due to a smaller window of opportunity to inflict new harm. Despite increased convictions and reduced pretrial crime, however, victim satisfaction with various aspects of the criminal justice process did not increase. The district attorney's liberalized charging policy had several effects, none of them positive. One effect was to bring into the court system a larger proportion of cases with victims who were not interested in seeing the defendant prosecuted. Another effect was that case processing time increased as the special court became overwhelmed with cases. 30 references, 3 tables, and 4 figures
Date Published: January 1, 1997