The purpose of this study was to answer the following research questions:
- Do domestic violence courts reduce recidivism?
- Do domestic violence courts hold defendants accountable through the use of more severe case outcomes and sentences?
- What, if any, court-level policies make these courts more or less effective (e.g., related to eligibility, program mandates, compliance monitoring, or victim service)?
- What, if any community characteristics make these courts more or less effective (e.g., related to population size, racial composition, or socioeconomic characteristics)?
- Based on individual characteristics (e.g., age, criminal history, or current charges), which categories of defendants are at a high risk of re-offending; and are certain categories particularly responsive to the domestic violence court intervention?
Outcome were compared between matched samples of defendants (Full File Data, n=17,718 and Convicted File Data, n=7,306) processed in the 24 domestic violence courts and in conventional courts operating in the same 24 jurisdictions in New York state prior to the opening of the specialized court. Cases processed in each domestic violence court during its first two full calendar years of operations comprised the domestic violence court sample. Cases processed in conventional courts during the two full calendar years preceding the opening of the specialized court comprised the comparison sample. Researchers used propensity score matching techniques, which resulted in final samples that were virtually identical on key characteristics, including criminal histories, current charges, and demographic backgrounds.
Data on court policies and practices were drawn from two survey instruments administered to each of the 24 courts (Court and Community Characteristics Data, n=48). The first survey was administered statewide in 2008; the second was a supplemental survey administered in 2010. Further information on court policies and procedures, as well as verification of survey responses, was provided by the Center of Court Innovation's Domestic Violence Programs Department.
The court sample included 24 criminal domestic courts that had been in operation as of 2007. Of those, seven were located in New York City, four in its suburbs, four in mid-sized cities in upstate New York, and nine in small cities, semi-rural, or rural areas. The majority of courts (n=18) accept misdemeanors only, fiver courts accept felonies only, and one court accepted both misdemeanor and felony cases. From each of the 24 sites, the domestic violence court sample is drawn from all cases arrested and processed during the first two full calendar years of court operations.
In order to determine whether a case was (1) a domestic violence case and (2) processed in the domestic violence court, researched utilized the following criteria:
- The case had at least one domestic violence-type charge (i.e. assault, harassment, menacing, criminal contempt, or stalking) at arrest or was explicitly flagged as a domestic violence case in the statewide criminal court MIS;
- The case was disposed on the day(s) of the week during which the domestic violence court was operational during the court's first two years;
- In the thirteen sites were such data was partially or fully available (the seven New York City, four suburban, and two Erie County-based sites), the case was disposed by the dedicated domestic violence court judge(s).
These eligibility criteria led to a total domestic violence court sample of 37,174 cases, from which a final randomly drawn sample was established of 9,292 cases (achieved by selecting every fourth case in each of the 24 sites).
The comparison sample was drawn from the New York statewide Order of Protection Registry. The registry became operational in 1995, maintains all active criminal and civil court orders of protection and holds information even after the orders become inactive, thereby enabling inquiries into the domestic violence history of any individual. All cases in which a criminal protective order (temporary or final) was issued within the two full calendar years preceding the opening of the local domestic violence court, and in which the protected party was not a child, were included in the sample. This resulted in an initial comparison sample of 23,312 cases. Cases in which there was no domestic violence type charge at arrest were further excluded from the sample, resulting in 21,046 comparison cases.
Longitudinal: Panel: Interval
All processed cases of arrested offenders in all criminal domestic violence courts in operation in New York state as of 2007.
Domestic Violence Court
administrative records data
The defendant data sets (Full File Data, n=17,718, 277 variables and Convicted File Data, n=7,306, 274 variables) include demographic variables (birth place, age, sex and race), current charge (assault, menacing, harassment, stalking, and criminal contempt), prior arrests (felony, misdemeanor, VFO, drug child victim, weapons, SOR), prior convictions (adult and youthful offender), arrest county, top arrest charge, top disposition charge, arrest date, parole type, probation type, sentence type, jail or prison time, fines, community service, minimum and maximum months in prison, treatment mandates (mental health care, drug or alcohol treatment, program completion), and previous domestic violence arrests. The court data (Court and Community Characteristics Data, n=48, 237 variables) includes variables on the community, such as geographic location, total population, poverty rate, median income, unemployment rate, percentage of the population without a high school diploma and a racial/ethnic diversity index. Variables on court characteristics include whether the court handles criminal domestic violence cases on a separate calendar or have dedicated judges and judicial officers, and the number of judges, project coordinators, compliance monitors, police offices, probation officers, public defenders, prosecutors, victim advocates, court clerks and other court staff. Other variables include the courts goals, types of cases handled by the court (felonies, misdemeanors, ordinance violations, civil protection/restraining orders, or other), forms of domestic violence eligible for the court (intimate partner violence, elder abuse, child abuse, violence between other relatives or roommates, other), specific types of eligible intimate partner relationships, types of diversion programs used by the courts, types of defendant assessments used by the court, frequency of compliance hearings and probation updates, and services and protection provided to victims.