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Variable Effects of Arrest on Criminal Careers: The Milwaukee Domestic Violence Experiment

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Volume: 83 Issue: 1 Dated: (Spring 1992) Pages: 137-169
Date Published
33 pages
An experiment in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that tested the deterrent effects of various police responses to domestic violence found that the deterrence effectiveness of arrest of the alleged abuser varied according to his characteristics and in many cases correlated with an escalation of domestic violence.
From April 7, 1987, to August 8, 1988, the Milwaukee Police Department conducted a controlled experiment in the use of arrest for misdemeanor domestic battery. Police responses to domestic assault were randomly assigned to include standard arrest under mandatory arrest policy, arrest followed by release on personal recognizance as soon as possible after arrival at central booking, and no arrest but a warning of arrest if the police had to return within 24 hours. A total of 1,200 cases were included in the sample. Outcomes for the three police responses were measured by known repeat offenses within 6 months of the initial police action. The study found no evidence of an overall long-term deterrent effect with the use of standard arrest. Initial deterrent effects observed for up to 30 days after the incident quickly disappear. In fact, by 1 year later, short arrest alone and short and full arrest combined produced an escalation effect. The first reported act of repeat violence following combined arrest responses occurred an average of 20 percent sooner than it did following the warning treatment. Arrest was also found to have different effects on different kinds of people; employed, married, white high school graduates were more likely to be deterred by arrest than were unemployed, unmarried, black high school dropouts. Violence among the latter group tended to escalate with arrest. Policy dilemmas prompted by these findings are discussed. 10 tables and 65 footnotes

Date Published: January 1, 1992