Offender Profile and Recidivism among Domestic Violence Offenders in Ontario

Executive Summary

The issue of domestic violence has been, and continues to be, a high priority for federal, provincial and territorial governments. In the past fifteen years, the federal government, as well as many of the provincial and territorial governments have introduced prevention and treatment programs for both victims and perpetrators of domestic violence. In addition, public education programs on the human and financial costs of domestic violence have been well established. Specific domestic violence legislation has been proclaimed in five provinces and two territories in order to complement existing responses under the Criminal Code.

In 1997, the Ontario government created the Domestic Violence Court (DVC) Program, starting with two pilot projects in the Toronto area. By 1998, the program had expanded to six additional locations (Brampton, Durham Region, Hamilton, London, North Bay and Ottawa). And, as of June 2005, Domestic Violence Courts exist in 42 locations across the province and it is anticipated the DVC will exist in all 54 court locations in Ontario by the end of 2005-2006.

The purpose of this study is to compare offence characteristics, criminal history and recidivism of a sample of offenders who have been convicted in Ontario of a domestic violence offence in a jurisdiction where there is a Domestic Violence Court (DVC) with a sample of offenders convicted in court jurisdictions without a DVC. It also examines the influence of criminal history as well as spousal conviction and sentence characteristics on the likelihood of recidivism.

A sample of 500 offenders who were convicted of a domestic violence offence between January 1 and December 31, 2001, in Ontario DVCs and a sample of 500 offenders who were convicted in other Ontario courts were randomly selected. A Criminal Convictions, Conditional and Absolute Discharges and Related Information form (also known as a "fingerprint form," "criminal record," or "CPIC record") was retrieved by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for these offenders and sent to the Research and Statistics Division, Department of Justice Canada, for data entry and analysis. The criminal history for all 1,000 offenders was recorded from its starting point up until December 31, 2003, in an Access database form and analyzed using Statistical Analysis System (SAS) software.

Various statistical analyses were undertaken to present offender, offence and sentence characteristics by court type for all offenders in the sample. Additionally, data on the variables that have an influence on the likelihood of recidivism and the variables that have the strongest relationship with recidivism are also presented.

A few variables showed significant differences between offenders from the two court types. Offenders who appeared in a DVC were generally older than offenders who appeared in other Ontario courts. They were more likely to have been convicted, for the index domestic violence conviction, of less serious violence. They were also more likely to be sentenced to prison but the median prison sentence was shorter compared to offenders who appeared in other Ontario courts.

There were some differences between offenders from both court types when examining the offender's criminal history. Although similar proportions of offenders from both court types had prior convictions on their criminal record and similar proportions of offenders had been convicted of serious violence or violent offences, offenders who appeared in a DVC were less likely to have a prior conviction for spousal violence compared to offenders who appeared in other Ontario courts. Moreover, they were also more likely than offenders who appeared in other Ontario courts to have received a prison term as the most serious sentence for prior convictions.

Differences between offenders from both court types were also found when controlled by the offender's reconviction record after the index domestic violence conviction. Although similar proportions were reconvicted following the index domestic violence conviction, offenders who appeared in a DVC were less likely to be reconvicted of a serious violent offence or of a spousal offence. They were, however, more likely to receive a prison sentence for the reconviction. Finally, the time elapsed between the index domestic violence conviction and the reconviction was slightly shorter for offenders who appeared in a DVC.

In terms of the influence of various variables on recidivism, gender, age, existence of prior criminal record, seriousness of prior conviction, sentence for prior conviction, sentence for index domestic violence conviction, prison sentence length for index domestic violence conviction, total number of lifetime convictions and total number of charges without convictions all appear to play a statistically significant role in the likelihood of recidivism.

The findings presented in this report did not demonstrate the influence of a DVC on reducing the overall likelihood of recidivism. Based on these data, we were not able to find a strong positive relationship between appearing in DVC and recidivism. However, offenders who appeared in a DVC were less likely than offenders who appeared in other Ontario courts to be reconvicted of a spousal or other violent offence and were more likely to be reconvicted of an administrative offence. Also, they were more likely to receive a prison sentence for the index domestic violence conviction and for the reconviction.

This study has a few limitations. As the basis for the analysis was the offender's criminal record, the analysis presented in this report portrays only the influence of selected elements related to the offender's criminal record on the likelihood of recidivism. The influence of individual level variables such as marital status, relationship of the accused to the victim, education level, employment status, income, urban/rural living should be considered in identifying the variables that most influence the likelihood of recidivism. These variables are not available on the criminal record for the sample of offenders and thus not included as explanatory variables. The analysis could also benefit from a country level analysis where the influence of variables such as economy, politics, democracy, social development could be found in the likelihood of recidivism.

Although all index domestic violence convictions were spousal offences, as this was the basis for this analysis, it was not possible to accurately identify all pre- and post-spousal offences due to the variability among police forces in filling out the RCMP's Volunteer Screening Initiative (VSI)[1] of the Criminal Records Synopsis (CRS). This limitation posed constraints in identifying prior spousal offences or spousal reconvictions. The additional information would have allowed a more accurate portrayal of the realities behind recidivism in domestic violence. It is possible that most reconvictions are of spousal nature, whether it was an actual spousal violent incident or administrative offence related to the index domestic violence conviction, but it was impossible to definitely identify the true nature of those prior offences or reconvictions.

Although the present study cannot fully explain the incidence of recidivism in domestic violence cases, it does shed some light on the issue and provides information on one specialized court created by one province to address the issue of domestic violence. The information examined in this report may help shape future programs or services to address and to contribute to a better understanding of recidivism in domestic violence at this present time.

1. Introduction

The issue of domestic violence has been, and continues to be, a high priority for federal, provincial and territorial governments. In the past fifteen years, the federal government, as well as many of the provincial and territorial governments have introduced prevention and treatment programs for both victims and perpetrators of domestic violence. In addition, public education programs on the human and financial costs of domestic violence have been well established. Specific domestic violence legislation has been proclaimed in the following provinces and territories in order to complement existing responses under the Criminal Code:

Alberta:
Protection Against Family Violence Act (June 11, 1999);
Manitoba:
Domestic Violence and Stalking Prevention, Protection and Compensation Act (June 29, 1998);
Northwest Territories:
Protection Against Family Violence Act (April 1, 2005);
Nova Scotia:
Domestic Violence Intervention Act April 1, 2003);
Prince Edward Island:
Victims of Family Violence Act (December 16, 1996);
Saskatchewan:
Victims of Domestic Violence Act (February 1, 1995); and
Yukon:
Family Violence Prevention Act (December 11, 1997).

Since 1997, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and the Yukon have implemented specialized courts or court processes to handle cases of domestic violence. These domestic violence courts were established to recognize the special nature of domestic violence incidents and to sensitize criminal justice personnel on the nature and extent of domestic violence. Systems or protocols were also developed to support coordination inside and outside the justice system in response to the unique dynamics of domestic violence.

In 1997, the Ontario government created the Domestic Violence Court (DVC) Program, starting with two pilot projects in the Toronto area. By 1998, the program had expanded to six additional locations (Brampton, Durham Region, Hamilton, London, North Bay and Ottawa). And, as of June 2005, Domestic Violence Courts exist in 42 locations across the province,[2] and it is anticipated the DVC will exist in all 54 court locations in Ontario by the end of 2005–2006.

The objectives of the Ontario DVC Program are to:

  1. prosecute and manage domestic violence cases more effectively;
  2. intervene early in domestic violence situations;
  3. provide better support to victims of domestic violence throughout the criminal justice process; and
  4. increase offender accountability.

Ontario's DVC program is comprised of two components:

  1. Early Intervention
  2. Coordinated Prosecution

Early Intervention

This component of the DVC program is designed to provide first-time offenders with an opportunity to learn about non-abusive ways to resolve conflict. The victim is consulted and informed about the accused's participation in the project. In order to be eligible for the program, the accused must meet the following criteria:

  1. no prior conviction for a domestic violence-related offence;
  2. no use of a weapon in the commission of the offence; and
  3. no significant harm caused to the victim.

If the accused is eligible for the program, he or she can choose to plead guilty and attend the Partner Assault Response (PAR) program as a condition of bail. In some sites, the accused may be ordered to attend a PAR program as part of probation, in which case, reporting back to the court would be unnecessary.

The Partner Assault Response (PAR) program is a 16-week specialized counselling/educational program delivered by community-based agencies for individuals accused of abusive behaviour towards their partners. The goal of the PAR program is to hold offenders accountable for their behaviour and enhance victim safety. It provides participants with an opportunity to examine the beliefs and attitudes used to justify their abusive behaviour and to learn non-abusive ways of resolving conflict. Upon completion of the PAR program, if PAR program attendance is a condition of bail, the accused returns for sentencing where the court receives a report of his or her progress in the program. If the accused completed the PAR program successfully, the Crown will recommend that a conditional discharge be imposed so that the accused avoids having a criminal record. If the offender did not attend the program, did not participate fully, or re-offended during the program, it would be considered that he or she breached bail conditions. The offender may then be charged and processed through the Coordinated Prosecution program.

Coordinated Prosecution

This component involves a specialized team of police, Crown attorneys and staff from the Victim/Witness Assistance Program (VWAP) who work together to investigate, prosecute, and provide victims with support and information. Crown attorneys often ask the police to collect, in addition to the victim's statement, copies of 911 tapes, medical reports and photographs of injuries, interviews with family and neighbours, and audio and/or video-taped victim statements. The police also lay charges where there are reasonable grounds to believe the offender has breached conditions of bail or probation. Specially trained domestic violence Crown attorneys use this additional evidence to proceed with the prosecution, and to provide support to the victim.


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