Journal of Risk and Uncertainty

, Volume 46, Issue 1, pp 51-80

First online:

Deterring domestic violence: Do criminal sanctions reduce repeat offenses?

  • Frank A. SloanAffiliated withDepartment of Economics, Duke University Email author 
  • , Alyssa C. PlattAffiliated withDuke Global Health & Department of Biostatics and Bioinformatics, Duke University
  • , Lindsey M. ChepkeAffiliated withDepartment of Economics, Duke University
  • , Claire E. BlevinsAffiliated withClinical Psychology Department, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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This study presents an empirical analysis of domestic violence case resolution in North Carolina for the years 2004 to 2010. The key hypothesis is that penalties at the level set for domestic violence crimes reduce recidivism (re-arrest on domestic violence charges or conviction in 2 years following an index arrest). We use state court data for all domestic violence-related arrests. Decisions to commit an act of domestic violence are based on a Bayesian process of updating subjective beliefs. Individuals have prior beliefs about penalties for domestic violence based on actual practice in their areas. An individual’s experience with an index arrest leads to belief updating. To address endogeneity of case outcomes, we use an instrumental variables strategy based on decisions of prosecutors and judges assigned to each index arrest in our sample. Contrary to our hypothesis, we find that penalities, at least as set at the current levels, do not deter future arrests and convictions.


Crime Domestic violence Deterrence Subjective beliefs Prosecutors Judges

JEL Classification

K14 K36 K42