U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Increasing the Proportion of Domestic Violence Arrests that are Prosecuted: A Natural Experiment in Milwaukee

NCJ Number
Criminology & Public Policy Volume: 2 Issue: 2 Dated: March 2003 Pages: 263-282
Date Published
March 2003
20 pages

This article reports on a natural experiment designed to test the efficacy of retaining aggressive mandatory and pro-arrest policies for domestic violence cases.


During the 1970’s, law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system came under fire for treating cases of domestic violence too leniently. The outcome of campaigns to treat domestic violence like any other assault case was the proliferation of mandatory and presumptive arrest policies in which police officers are compelled to arrest the aggressor of domestic violence where probable cause exists. One result of these policies is an increase in the number of cases brought to prosecutors for adjudication. In many instances, the cases are difficult to prosecute and the prosecutor may be dealing with a victim who never wanted her partner arrested or prosecuted to begin with. Prosecutors are faced with either screening out difficult cases and focusing resources on more clear-cut cases or prosecuting as many cases as possible. The authors studied a natural experiment in which the Milwaukee prosecutor opened up his case screening process to double the number of domestic violence case filings. The result of doubling the domestic violence case prosecutions was that the time to disposition doubled, conviction rates decreased, the level of pre-trial crime increased, and victim satisfaction decreased. The authors concluded that policies that mandate arrest and prosecution of domestic violence crimes without regard to victim preferences may not be the best way to focus limited staff and financial resources. The good intentions of policymakers needs to be coupled with a realistic expectation of what can be accomplished by the criminal justice system. Figures, tables, references

Date Published: March 1, 2003