, Volume 24, Issue 6, pp 785-809

System influences on posthomicide beliefs and distress

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Criminal justice system experiences in 150 family members of homicide victims were investigated. The study had two goals: (a) to document the experiences of homicide survivors in the criminal justice system, including case outcomes, criminal justice system activities, and satisfaction with system personnel; and (b) to determine if experiences with the police impacted posthomicide beliefs (cognitive assumptions about the world and one’s relationship to it) and psychological distress. The sample, which was identified through the Medical Examiner’s Office, was drawn from all criminal homicides from 1.5 to 5 years prior to selection. Results showed that family members of homicide victims were very dissatisfied with their experiences in the criminal justice system. Additionally, whereas objective system outcomes (e.g, arrest) did not directly affect posthomicide beliefs and distress, subjective system outcomes (e.g., police satisfaction) directly affected beliefs and indirectly affected distress. There was some support for both equity theory and a cognitive theory of change, the two theories that guided the model specification.

This study was funded by a predoctoral National Research Service Award fellowship to Martie Thompson, from the Violence and Traumatic Stress Research Branch at the National Institute of Mental Health. We thank Paula Vardaman for her help with sample recruitment and data collection, Nancy Deore and Kelly Harlan for their help with data collection, and Ann Price for help with data entry. Additionally, we would like to thank Lieutenant Agan of the Atlanta Homicide Division, the staff at the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office, and the staff at the Victim Witness Assistance Program for making this study possible by providing access to their files. Finally, we thank Morton Bard for his feedback in quastionnaire development and study design.