Measuring the Effects of Domestic Violence Courts in New York

Posted: March 11, 2013 in Research, Violence
Tags: , , ,

Because of their complexity, evaluating criminal justice interventions is a particularly challenging endeavor. Attempting to isolate and control for all of the variables involved is a real barrier, and the reported outcomes tend to suffer as a result. This is just as true for court-based interventions as it is for other any other area of the system. Single-site evaluations of a particular approach, such as a specialty court, can easily be weakened by threats to validity caused by variations in implementation.


A recent study released by the Center for Court Innovation about the effects of New York’s Domestic Violence courts took a different approach that overcomes some of the threats to validity that can limit the applicability of results. Instead of focusing on a single case, researchers examined outcomes across a system of 24 Domestic Violence courts.  They evaluated a matched sample of offenders, half who participated in a traditional court, and half who participated in a Domestic Violence court in the same system.

The results are subtle and nuanced, and provide some useful insights for jurisdictions looking to implement such a court.  Here are the authors’ conclusion:

This study of New York’s domestic violence courts demonstrated a modest positive impact on
recidivism among convicted offenders, though not among all defendants. The study did not
detect a significant overall impact on conviction rates or incarceration sentences, although the
domestic violence courts produced significantly more punitive outcomes (higher conviction and
incarceration rates) for male offenders. Consistent with previous research, the study suggests that
not all domestic violence courts seek the same goals, follow the same policy model, or achieve
the same impacts. This study also found that those domestic violence courts that prioritize
deterrence and that both prioritize and implement specific policies to sanction offender
noncompliance, while also addressing the needs of victims, are most effective in reducing
recidivism. Knowing that modest recidivism reductions are possible can set the stage for future
research and development on promising practices that offer the prospect of maximizing the
benefits of these specialized courts (emphasis added).

As in other criminal justice interventions, implementation appeared to be key to improving outcomes. It’s not just the presence of a Domestic Violence court that makes a difference, it’s the specific policies and practices, as well as the philosophical orientation of the participants that leads to positive results. In other words, the details matter.

Are you aware of any other outcome studies like the above and, if so, how do the results compare?

  1. Thank you for your blog on important social issues. Here at the Stop Abuse Campaign, one of our main objectives is redefining rape. We’ve started here in New York State where we are supporting the Rape is Rape Bill that includes anal and oral rape and removes the requirement to prove actual insertion. I can tell from your blog that these issues are important to you.

    Please promote the petition. It now has over 10,000 signatures in a couple of

    Our other campaign as part of redefining rape is to eliminate the statutes of limitations that protect pedophiles and prevent law enforcement doing their job. Continuing them is bad policy, the science is clear. Ending them is apparently bad politics, they’re supported by big institutions! That’s why we need the power of people working together.

    Thank you for your important coverage on these issues, we ‘d happily arrange some expert voices to brief you on either the rape is rape bill or the child victims act.

    Sincerely, Terrell Hart, Stop Abuse Campaign,


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