, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 43-54

What happens when a reform works? The need to study unanticipated consequences of mandatory processing of domestic violence

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Abstract

One of the primary facets of the sociology of law is concerned with the relationships between formal rules and regulations having the force of governmental social control and the values, norms and practices of those who enforce them (or not). This “law in action” perspective enables research to test out the differential impact on legal decisions of both formal and informal aspects of social control (Hawkins, 1992). One of the limitations of recent work on domestic violence is that it focuses too narrowly on one or two negative sanctions, e.g., arrest or restraining orders, to the exclusion of the other options and the mix of formal and informal decisions in the criminal justice system as a whole (Reiss, 1974). This research attempts through a close analysis of the workings of the Quincy, Massachusetts criminal justice system in response to domestic violence, to identify the consequences, unanticipated and anticipated, of decisions made in several domains (public, police, prosecutors, and courts) of the criminal justice system. This study uses in-depth interviews with batterers, victims and criminal justice agency and related personnel as well as agency policies, training materials and records to examine possible unintended consequences of aggressive intervention in cases of domestic violence. This study will explore the impact of the Quincy Domestic Violence Program, considered to be a national model, on the lives of victims and offenders who are treated by the court. We have selected the District Court at Quincy, Massachusetts as our research site. It has a well deserved national reputation treating abusers systematically from the initial intake by arresting officers through close supervision in probation.