The purpose of the study was to:
- Describe the prosecution and sentencing histories for domestic violence and other offenses;
- Determine the severity gap in prosecution and sentencing between these domestic violence and non-domestic violence over a six year period; and
- To answer whether the variation in prosecution and sentencing severity predicts being subsequently charged for domestic violence in the future.
Rhode Island was selected as the study site because it has a high domestic violence arrest rate and specifically distinguishes domestic violence from non-domestic violence offenses based on the relationships of the parties, not by specific type of crime. Further, Rhode Island's judiciary maintains a public web-based database called CourtConnect. The website includes an index of defendants by name and date of birth and lists all arrests followed by prosecution and court actions through final sentence. The criminal history information includes all charges filed in any Rhode Island court for the last 25 years. For all offenders included in the study sample, researchers coded all available criminal records for their entire available criminal careers, from their first (adult) offense up to and included any charged through the study period.
Two researchers independently coded offender data (Differential Sentencing Data - Persons, n=982) available on CourtConnect. Coders then determined whether the defendants were prosecuted for the charges brought against them (Differential Sentencing Data - Offenses, n=6,649). Offenses that were not prosecuted were differentiated from offenses that were prosecuted. Each charge was classified as domestic violence or non-domestic violence as defined by state statute.
For inclusion in the study, offenders must have been on probation for a domestic violence offense on either November 14, 2002 or December 31,2002. Although there were approximately 3,000 offenders on probation supervision for domestic violence at this time, those included in this study were limited to a sample of probationers obtained in a prior study funded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). The sample (n=1,032) consisted of those probationers who were on the caseloads of fourteen different probation officers, five of whom dealt exclusively with domestic violence offenders. Unique individual offenders were identified by their first and last name and their date of birth. In cases in which offenders could not be uniquely identified by these criteria, they were excluded from analysis.
Longitudinal: Cohort / Event-based
Criminal offenders on probation for a domestic violence offense in Rhode Island as of November and December 2002.
Rhode Island CourtConnect
administrative records data
The offender level data (Differential Sentencing Data - Persons, 246 variables, n=982) includes offender gender, date of birth, number of offenses, minimum sentence, maximum sentence, proportion of offenses that were domestic violence, proportion of offenses that were prosecuted, date of first prosecution, date of last prosecution, age at first offense, number of domestic violence offenses and number of non-domestic violence offenses.
The offense level data (Differential Sentencing Data - Offenses, 28 variables, n=6,649) includes offender gender and date of birth, whether the offense is domestic violence or non-domestic violence, date prosecuted, whether offense is a new violation, offenses not prosecuted, offenses resulting in a fine or probation, offense sentenced to prison and sentence length, date of earliest offense, and number of months since first offense.