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Practice Profile

Domestic Violence Courts

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:

Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Violent offenses

Practice Description

Practice Goals/Target Population
Domestic violence courts (DVCs) follow the problem-solving court model and offer alternative judicial processing for individuals accused of domestic violence. DVCs seek to reduce both general recidivism and violent domestic recidivism among individuals charged with a domestic violence offense.

Practice Components
The option to participate in a DVC is offered at pretrial or post-arraignment (after the first court appearance) and often requires a guilty plea to a domestic violence offense. While components vary across courts, some components are largely common to DVCs. For example, DVCs often involve judicial monitoring and coordination among community stakeholders (e.g., judges, mental health workers, social services, police). Offenders may also be referred to batterer intervention programs and other social services in the community (e.g., substance abuse programming, mental health agencies).

Individuals who participate in DVCs are often required to attend status hearings before a judge for a specified frequency (e.g., weekly or biweekly), which can increase or decrease depending on the individual’s progress. At the scheduled hearings, the individual, the judge, and any community/legal representatives discuss the offender’s behavior and progress. The judge will traditionally review progress, restate the responsibilities of the individual, and provide praise or sanctioning, which can range from verbal warnings to jail time.

If offenders fail to meet the requirements set out by the court, their original charges may be reinstated or a bench warrant may be issued and a suspended sentence imposed. Although there are similarities regarding practice components, there are differences in the types of cases that DVCs accept (for example, misdemeanor versus felony cases, first-time versus repeat domestic violence offenders).

Practice Theory
The DVC model is largely based on the therapeutic jurisprudence approach, which seeks to deal with individuals with a guilty domestic violence charge and their victims using a problem-solving paradigm. Specifically, the approach involves  coordinating the efforts of community players (e.g., judges, mental health workers, social services, police) to help in restoring the harm caused by the offense (Ostrom 2003; Wexler and Winick 1996).

Meta-Analysis Outcomes

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Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Gutierrez and colleagues (2017) found, across 18 study samples, that domestic violence court (DVC) participation had a statistically significant impact on general recidivism (mean OR=0.77). This translates to a 5.65 percent reduction in general recidivism for those participating in the DVC, compared with the comparison group members who did not participate.
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Violent offenses
Gutierrez and colleagues (2017) found participation in DVCs, across 26 unique samples, had a statistically significant impact on domestic violence recidivism (mean OR=0.82). This translates to a 2.77 percent reduction in violent, domestic recidivism for those participating in DVC, compared with the comparison group members who did not participate.
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Meta-Analysis Methodology

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Meta-Analysis Snapshot
 Literature Coverage DatesNumber of StudiesNumber of Study Participants
Meta-Analysis 11996 - 20132026601

Meta-Analysis 1
Gutierrez and colleagues (2017) conducted a meta-analysis of outcome evaluations of domestic violence courts (DVCs) to examine the impact on recidivism. A comprehensive search was conducted to identify eligible studies. Search methods included a keyword search, reference list review, and contacting researchers in the specialty court field. The following inclusion criteria were applied: 1) the study had to examine a DVC, 2) the study had to report a recidivism measure as an outcome, 3) the study had to have a comparison group of some kind (randomly assigned or retrospective), and 4) the study had to provide enough information to calculate an effect size (specifically odds ratios).

The search yielded a total of 20 outcome evaluations, which included 26 unique samples. All 20 studies took place in either the United States or Canada, and publication dates ranged from 1996 to 2013. Of the 26 unique samples, 18 used a convenience/non-equivalence sample, while the remaining 8 used a matched, equivalent sample. Additionally, 14 were quasi-experimental designs and 5 were randomized controlled trials. The remaining 7 were either not reported or other study designs. Lastly, 20 samples were drawn from unpublished reports and the other 6 were published reports. The total number of aggregated participants was 26,601. The combined sample had a mean age of about 32, was mostly male, and of mixed race (across 13 of the 26 samples). The average percentage of individuals with prior criminal justice system involvement (e.g., prior arrests) was 54 percent. Regarding study quality, the majority of studies (69.2 percent) were classified as “weak” according to the outcome rating of the Collaborative Outcome Data Committee (CODC) guidelines which evaluates individual studies in order to differentiate between levels of methodological quality. The CODC guidelines consist of 21 items that represent indicators of study quality (e.g., experimenter involvement, attrition, group equivalency). Additionally, 15.4 percent were rated as “rejected,” 15 percent were rated as “good,” and none were rated as “strong.”

Odds ratio was chosen as the effect size and the most appropriate index to estimate the impact of a dichotomous variable (DVC participation versus nonparticipation) on dichotomous outcome (recidivism versus no recidivism). A weighted approach was used to allow studies with larger sample sizes to contribute more to the overall estimation of the effect size. A fixed-effect analysis was conducted.

The authors conducted an additional analysis to determine whether DVCs, according to the literature, were adhering to the risk-need-responsivity (RNR) model. The RNR model states that individuals should be matched to programming and services according to their level of risk, individual needs, and learning style in order to achieve the best possible outcomes for youths (Andres, Bonta, and Hoge 1990). Results suggested that studies which demonstrated adherence to the RNR model showed significantly greater treatment effects when compared to studies which did not adhere to the RNR model.
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Cost

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There is no cost information available for this practice.
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Evidence-Base (Meta-Analyses Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Meta-Analysis 1
Gutierrez, Leticia, Julie Blais, and Guy Bourgon.2017. “Do Domestic Violence Courts Work? A Meta-Analytic Review Examining Treatment and Study Quality.” Justice Research and Policy 17(2): 75–99.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Andrews, Donald A., James Bonta, and Robert D. Hoge. 1990. “Classification for Effective Rehabilitation: Rediscovering Psychology.” Criminal Justice and Behavior 17:19–52.

Gutierrez, Leticia, Julie Blais, and Guy Bourgon. 2017. “Do Domestic Violence Courts work? A Meta-Analytic Review Examining Treatment and Study Quality.” Unpublished manuscript.

Ostrom, J. 2003. “Domestic Violence Courts.” Criminology & Public Policy 3: 105–108.

Wexler, D. B., and B.J. Winick (eds.). 1996. Law in a Therapeutic Key: Developments in Therapeutic Jurisprudence. Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press.
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Related Programs

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Following are CrimeSolutions.gov-rated programs that are related to this practice:

Rochester (N.Y.) Domestic Violence Court Judicial Monitoring No Effects - One study
A program designed to provide judicial monitoring by the court and involved frequent court appearances by the offender before a judge. The goal was to ensure compliance with court-mandated program requirements and other court orders, deter future violence and re-abuse of victims. The program is rated No Effects. The evaluation found that the judicial monitoring made no impact on rearrests, on mandated program attendance or completion.

New York’s Criminal Domestic Violence Courts No Effects - One study
The program is a problem-solving court that operate a specialized caseload for domestic violence-related cases only, and for which eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis. The program is rated No Effects. The criminal domestic violence courts in New York significantly reduce case-processing time, but there was no significant impact on recidivism, convictions rates, and sentences that involve jail or prison.

New York Integrated Domestic Violence Courts No Effects - One study
This program is a problem-solving court that is part of a unified “one family-one judge” model, which means all criminal, family, and matrimonial cases involving the same family are handled by one judge. This program is rated No Effects. There were no significant differences in re-arrests and conviction rates when comparing the IDV court cases with traditional family court cases.
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Practice Snapshot

Gender: Both

Targeted Population: Serious/Violent Offender

Settings: Courts

Practice Type: Domestic Violence Court, Violence Prevention

Unit of Analysis: Persons