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Crime, Punishment, and Stake in Conformity: Legal and Informal Control of Domestic Violence

NCJ Number
American Sociological Review Volume: 57 Issue: 5 Dated: (October 1992) Pages: 680-690
Date Published
11 pages
Because deterrence and labeling theories offer inconsistent predictions about the relative impact of legal and informal controls on subsequent criminal activities of arrested persons, a controlled experiment based on police contacts for domestic violence offenses in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was conducted to determine if the effect of arrest on recidivism depended on key individual characteristics and "stake in conformity."
The study focused on 1,200 cases of misdemeanor domestic battery reported to the Milwaukee Police Department between April 1987 and August 1988. Suspects varied by race and stake in conformity. Almost all suspects were male, and 79 percent were black. Three treatments were employed: (1) standard arrest in which suspects were held until the morning unless they could post bail; (2) short arrest in which suspects were released on their recognizance; and (3) police warning but no arrest. Contrary to deterrence theories, arrest had no overall crime reduction effect in either official or victim interview measures of repeat domestic violence. Consistent with labeling theories, arrest increased recidivism among those with a low stake in conformity, the unemployed and the unmarried. Neither race nor record of prior offenses conditioned the effect of arrest on subsequent domestic violence. Study results are consistent with findings from similar experiments in other parts of the United States. 58 references and 2 tables

Date Published: January 1, 1992