Evaluating Coordinated Community Responses to Domestic Violence

This document explores mechanisms for coordination of community responses to domestic violence, examines research regarding various components of community responses, and highlights studies that evaluate the effectiveness coordinated community responses.

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VAWnet Summary:

Evaluating Coordinated Community Responses to Domestic Violence by Melanie Shepard (April 1999).

In Brief:

A coordinated community response involves police, prosecutors, probation officers, battered women's advocates, counselors, and judges in developing and implementing polices and procedures that improve interagency coordination and lead to more uniform responses to domestic violence cases.

Components of a Coordinated Response

  • pro-arrest or mandatory arrest policies
  • advocacy for victims
  • aggressive and prompt prosecution
  • monitoring individual cases
  • batterer rehabilitation programs
  • strengthening civil protection
  • system-wide monitoring

In general, studies that have examined the impact of individual components of a coordinated response have been inconclusive, leading some researchers to call for more study of the combined effects of community interventions (Jaffe, Hastings, Reitzel & Austin, 1993; Tolman & Weisz, 1995).

Mechanisms for Coordination

Community Intervention Projects (CIP) are advocacy organizations that focus on reforming, improving, and coordinating institutional responses to domestic violence within a community.

  • CIPs increase rates of arrests, convictions, and court ordered treatment in communities where they have begun (Pence, 1985; Gamache, Edleson & Schock, 1988).
  • One study found that the least repeat violence was among men who were arrested and ordered to treatment, followed by men who were arrested but not ordered to treatment, with the highest amount of violence among men who were not arrested (Syers & Edleson, 1992).
  • Batterer characteristics may be as important as the combination of interventions provided in determining recidivism. In a study of recidivism over five years, no combination of the interventions studied (i. e., jail time, civil or criminal court intervention, completion of the men's program, number of sessions attended) determined whether a man was identified as a recidivist. Chemical dependency history, history of abuse, and previous criminal justice involvement did predict recidivism (Shepard, 1992).

Criminal Justice System-Based Reform Projects provide leadership within the criminal justice system to coordinate the response. Innovative programs that focus on integrated case management are often located within prosecutors' offices, although they may be initiated by probation or the judiciary.

  • Use of a domestic violence protocol within the criminal justice system significantly deterred subsequent domestic violence incidents, which was maintained over an 18-month follow-up period. Offenders who had previous contact with police were more likely to be arrested again during the follow-up period. Recidivism rates for cases that were successfully prosecuted were lower than those that were not, but the differences were not statistically significant (Tolman & Weisz, 1995)
  • A recent study compared batterers who completed treatment to those who dropped out and to those who were incarcerated and did not receive treatment. Batterers who were jailed without treatment were more likely to reoffend than both treatment completers and those that dropped out. The number of sessions attended was related to a reduction in further arrests for domestic violence (Babcock & Steiner, 1998).

Coordinating councils at the state and local levels provide a forum for interagency communication and collaboration.

  • In one study a pre-intervention period (prior to a coordinated response) was compared to an intervention period (when a coordinating council was being used). Arrests by police before a coordinated response led to more abuse, but served as a deterrent after a coordinated response was initiated. There were some situations where a coordinated response was not found effective, such as when the offender had a criminal record (Steinman, 1990).
  • A qualitative study of six communities that used coordinating councils found that the process of changing the response to domestic violence had taken place over a long period. Key events that drew attention to deficiencies in the system, leadership from different sources, the activities of coordinating councils, the involvements of advocates in promoting change, and a shift in awareness and attitudes were identified as important elements in creating and maintaining change (Clark, Burt, Schulte & Maguire, 1996).

Summary

Reform efforts have been successful in heightening the response of the criminal justice system. While the successes of individual components of a coordinated response have been modest, there is evidence that combining these approaches in a coordinated approach reduces future incidences of violence. Preliminary studies suggest that coordinated responses are not as effective with offenders who have had previous involvement with the criminal justice system.

Distribution Rights

This Applied Research paper and In Brief may be reprinted in its entirety or excerpted with proper acknowledgement to the author(s) and VAWnet, a project of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, but may not be altered or sold for profit.