Expansive Criminalization of Domestic Violence, US 1976-1996

face of a prisoner

Aggressive, harshly punitive policies for addressing domestic violence developed rapidly in the U.S. from the mid-1970s. Contrary to mythic history, domestic violence has always been a public concern and a crime. However, the extent to which domestic violence has been addressed through the criminal justice system and the means by which it has been addressed have changed greatly. A dataset provides cross-state data on the years of the first enactment of special state legislation concerning domestic-violence restraining orders. It also includes data on police domestic-violence policies, prosecutors’ domestic-violence policies, and services for women victims of domestic violence across the 50 largest U.S. cities. Both sets of data cover the years 1976 to 1996.

domestic violence criminalization index, US 1976-97

Years of first enactment of special state legislation concerning domestic-violence restraining orders are given with respect to five categories of restraining-order law. Those categories:

  1. domestic-violence restraining orders explicitly established
  2. restraining orders provided for non-cohabitants
  3. warrantless arrest established for violating restraining order
  4. violating restraining order criminalized
  5. mandatory arrest established for violating restraining order

Indicators of state legislation having been enacted in these categories are summed equally to form a state-level indicator with maximum value 100% for each year. Weighting those state-level indicators by the state populations in 1990 gives a weighted restraining-order law index for the U.S. as a whole.

Years of first enactment of police policies and prosecutors’ policies concerning domestic violence are given with respect to two categories of policies for police and two for prosecutors. The categories of policies for police:

  1. mandatory arrest for domestic-violence offenses
  2. mandatory arrest for violations of restraining orders

The categories of policies for prosecutors:

  1. policy requiring no-drop prosecution of domestic violence
  2. prosecutor has a special domestic-violence unit that engages in legal advocacy for battered women

Just as for the state restraining-order law indicators, the police policy enactments indicators are combined into a 1990-population-weighted domestic-violence criminalization index for police. A similar index is constructed for prosecutors. These national indices are based on police and prosecutors’ policies in the 50 largest U.S. cities.

growth in shelter beds and hotlines for women domestic violence victims

The dataset also includes data on domestic-violence victim services for women across the fifty largest U.S. cities. The statistics for those services are domestic violence shelter beds per 100,000 women ages 15 and older; and domestic violence hotlines per 100,000 women ages 15 and older. Both these statistics are unavailable for New York City. Each type of statistic is aggregated with 1990 city population weights to form national victim services series from 1976 to 1996. The level of both statistics in 1996 are given for the individual cities. Despite a large number of men who are victims of domestic violence, domestic-violence victim services for men are far inferior to those for women.

Other datasets contain related domestic-violence policy data. One datset contains indicators of enactments of state laws addressing domestic violence by law category and year from 1995 to 2011. Another contains data on the growth in the total number of U.S. domestic-violence shelters since the mid-1970s. A third dataset contains survey data on help for domestic-violence victims from non-police agencies.

Expansive, harshly punitive policies addressing domestic violence are associated with the extraordinary rise in incarceration in the U.S. beginning about 1980.

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