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Evaluation of Milwaukee's Judicial Oversight Demonstration

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Document date: May 04, 2006
Released online: May 04, 2006

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).

The text below is a portion of the complete document.


Chapter 1. Executive Summary: The Evaluation of Milwaukee’s Judicial Oversight Demonstration

The Judicial Oversight Demonstration (JOD) was designed to implement and test model responses to intimate partner violence (IPV) that featured a strong judicial response combined with coordinated community services and integrated justice system policies. The primary goals of JOD were to protect victim safety, improve offender accountability, and reduce the incidence of intimate partner violence. Core strategies of the Judicial Oversight Demonstration interventions are:

  • uniform and consistent initial responses to domestic violence offenses, including: a) pro-arrest policies, b) arrest of primary aggressor, and c) coordinated response by law enforcement and victim advocates;
  • coordinated victim advocacy and services, including: a) contact by advocates as soon as possible after the domestic violence call, b) an individualized “safety plan” for the victim and children (if appropriate), and c) provision of needed services such as shelters, protection orders, and other assistance; and
  • strong offender accountability and oversight, including: a) intensive court-based supervision, b) referral to appropriate batterer intervention programs, and c) administrative and judicial sanctions and incentives to influence offender behavior.

The demonstration was funded with two goals in mind: 1) to learn from the experience of well-qualified sites who were given resources and challenged to build a collaboration between the courts and community agencies to respond to domestic violence; and 2) to test the impact of JODI interventions on victim safety and offender accountability.

Core partner agencies included the Milwaukee Criminal Court, the Office of the District Attorney, the Office of the Public Defender, the Milwaukee Police Department, the Division of Community Supervision (probation and parole) within the Wisconsin Department of Corrections and four non-governmental service providers of victim services and batterer intervention programs: Task Force on Family Violence, Milwaukee Women's Center, Sojourner Truth House, and Asha Family Services.

Federal funding from the Office on Violence Against Women supported JOD implementation in Milwaukee from 2000 to 2004. JOD created significant changes, large and small, in the response to incidents of intimate partner violence that came to the attention of the Milwaukee justice system. In the justice system:

  • A new Domestic Violence Commissioner’s Intake Court with a dedicated, 5-days-a-week domestic violence Court Commissioner assumed responsibility for pretrial appearances after the initial appearance, out of custody intakes, bail hearings and reviews, and status appearances five days a week for defendants charged with misdemeanor domestic violence. In 2002, 3,231 defendants appeared in the court, and one-fifth of all guilty pleas were entered in the court, before referral to the trial docket for sentencing. The number of bail conditions imposed increased.
  • High-risk defendants were placed in an intensive pretrial supervision program. Defendants in the program were required to appear in the intake court at least three times for review of their compliance with bail conditions. Intensive supervision by a bail monitor employed by the court included office visits, letters, phone calls, collateral contacts, and home visit contacts with defendants and their victims. Cases in the pretrial monitoring program in which the bail monitor had contacts with the victim were almost twice as likely to end in conviction than cases in which the monitor did not have victim contacts.
  • The Domestic Violence Prosecution Unit in the District Attorney’s Office developed strategies for prosecuting cases without requiring victim testimony. These included expanded collection and use of photographs of injury and damage; use of victim statements made at the time of the incident, including tapes of 911 calls; charging defendants with bail jumping for their failure to appear (FTA) for court appearances; and tape recordings of threatening phone calls from jailed defendants. Misdemeanor conviction rates declined from 1999 to 2001 but rose sharply in 2002 and 2003, at the height of JOD implementation.

Felony cases were moved from the general felony dockets to the domestic violence court dockets where the Domestic Violence Prosecution Unit could focus attention and provide vertical prosecution. The increase in felony charge convictions was dramatic, with five times the number of felony IPV convictions in 2003 than in 1999, the year before the start of JOD. Other JOD justice system innovations included:

  • A waiting room for domestic violence victims near the domestic violence courts provided victims with a safe place to wait for scheduled court appearances and speak with victim/witnesses specialists and others in private. It was equipped with play space for children. Between July 1, 2002 and June 30, 2003, the waiting room logged in 1,799 visitors, including 69 children.
  • Judges in the three specialized domestic violence courts began scheduling IPV offenders on probation to return to their court for a compliance review hearing (60 to 90 days after sentencing, when the calendar permitted). Based on judicial assessment of progress at the time of review, the judge might encourage the offender to continue his/her progress; warn the offender, but allow probation to impose sanctions or additional requirements; or sanction the offender to serve all or some of the stayed condition time specified in the sentence. In 2002, the court held 1,347 review hearings.
  • Probation agents began emailing reports to the court several days before a review hearing, expanded efforts to contact victims, collected information on attendance and progress from batterer treatment programs, and attended review hearings of their clients. In focus groups, victims praised probation officers, commenting that they made themselves available 24 hours per day and helped monitor the abusers’ behavior.
  • A combined Domestic Abuse/Harassment Injunction Court, opened in 2003, helped victims seeking restraining orders by eliminating the requirement that they take paperwork from the court to the Sheriff’s office, adding formality to the hearing, emphasizing consistency in response to petitions, and improving court room security and public access.
  • The Milwaukee Police Department opened a Family Violence Unit (FVU) in the Sensitive Crimes Division in 2003 to support enhanced investigation of serious domestic violence cases and provide immediate services to victims. JOD funds supported a full-time Domestic Violence Liaison to make follow up contacts with victims to assist in safety planning and referrals to victim service providers.

Community-based agencies received funding under contract to expand their batterer treatment programs and add to their programs for victims:

  • The Milwaukee Women’s Center expanded their Older Abused Women’s Project by adding a full-time case manager and one evening support group and developed a culturally specific Batterer Intervention Program (BIP) for Latino, Spanish-speaking offenders.
  • Sojourner Truth House added a Domestic Violence Hotline Liaison to follow up with victims identified by calls to the hotline who were in need of service. Their BIP service enhancements included new Spanish speaking sessions, translation of documents and brochures from English to Spanish, an additional women’s program group, a graduate maintenance group, more co-facilitated group meetings, and participation enhancement (specifically help with transportation costs and a partner outreach program).
  • The Task Force on Family Violence expanded the scope of legal advocacy services to include taking digital photographs of injuries and distributing bus tickets, phone cards, and gift certificates to victims in emergency situations and added four BIP groups to their existing program.

Despite the scope and depth of these accomplishments, not all goals were achieved or achieved easily. Major challenges included:

  • Linking JOD to the existing coordinated community response. Prior to JOD, Milwaukee had a sound coordinated community response, the Milwaukee Commission on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, which had a strong emphasis on victim services. Membership in the commission was legislatively defined and until recently did not include representation by the Milwaukee County Circuit Court because the court did not want to compromise its neutrality by becoming involved in policy changes outside of the courtroom. JOD was a judicial- based program, and it was realized that to institutionalize JOD into the community, the court needed to be a member.
  • Expanding BIP options. Increased offender accountability resulting from JOD put an enormous strain on the capacity of Milwaukee’s BIP providers and long waiting lists resulted. Because under JOD judges ordered participation in BIP as a condition of probation, the BIPs struggled to find ways to serve more offenders and populations for whom services were scarce or unavailable (e.g., Spanish speaking offenders and female perpetrators).
  • Intervening with victims at the time of an incident. From the start, JOD tried to provide immediate services to victims following a domestic violence incident. A number of strategies were tried. These included the Domestic Violence Crisis Response Unit (DVCRU), outreach by the bail monitor, follow-up contacts to victims calling the Sojourner Truth Domestic Violence Hotline, and most recently, a police liaison to provide referral services through MPD’s FVU. Despite the initiatives’ varied approaches, the goal of early intervention and safety planning remained elusive although it is too early to judge the effects of having the FVU police liaison available to facilitate collaboration with victim service agencies, the court, and the probation department.

The impact evaluation of Milwaukee’s JOD initiative tested the hypothesis that JOD reduced domestic violence among offenders placed on probation following conviction on charges of intimate partner violence. Domestic violence recidivism was defined as any arrest for domestic violence. The analysis compares arrest records of a sample of 333 offenders placed on probation during JOD for intimate partner violence with those of a sample of 289 offenders placed on probation for similar offences before the introduction of new procedures for these cases.

JOD clearly increased the accountability of offenders. Compared to pre-JOD probationers, JOD probationers

  • Were more likely to have been issued a no-contact order, and much more likely to have been issued a no contact order that banned all contact, not just abusive contact;
  • Were much more likely to be required to remain sober, stay employed, and comply with other specific probation conditions;
  • Were scheduled to appear before the sentencing judge once or more to review their compliance with probation conditions; and
  • Reported to probation agents who had greater contact with their victims and BIP providers. Probation agent responses to problems changed significantly under JOD than before JOD:
  • Agents were more likely to penalize problems that came to their attention;
  • Agents responded to problems with more severe penalties; and
  • Agents initiated more revocations for technical violations, failure to comply with BIP requirements, unauthorized victim contacts, and new criminal activities.

One effect of these heightened monitoring conditions was a dramatic increase in probation revocations. Over a quarter (27%) of the JOD probationers were revoked in the first year (n=89), compared to 2% of the pre-JOD probationers (n=6). Over 70% of the JOD revocations were for failure to attend batterer treatment or other technical violations; however, over a quarter (27%) involved allegations of IPV.

JOD was associated with a reduced rate of arrest for domestic violence, an indication of gains in victim safety. JOD probationers were only half as likely as pre-JOD probationers to be arrested on DV-related charges in the year after case disposition. The predicted probability of a domestic violence arrest in the year following disposition was 4.2% for JOD offenders, compared to 8.0% for their pre-JOD counterparts. Moreover, the average number of domestic violence arrests of JOD probationers was significantly lower than the average number of domestic violence arrests of pre-JOD probationers.

However, the higher rates of probation revocation under JOD may well have reduced the opportunity to commit a new offense. The pre-JOD sample served a total of 1,059 jail days after revocation compared to a total of 13,902 jail days for the JOD sample.1 Thus, it is likely that the improvements in victim safety reflected in the lower rates of arrest for domestic violence were accomplished by removing high-risk offenders from the streets, rather than by lower rates of domestic violence during their days in the community. Thus, we attribute the gains to offender incapacitation, rather than offender deterrence.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).



Topics/Tags: | Crime/Justice


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