Offender Profile and Recidivism among Domestic Violence Offenders in Ontario

9. Discussions and Limitations

The purpose of this study was to examine the difference between a sample of offenders convicted in Ontario of a domestic violence offence in a jurisdiction where there was a Domestic Violence Court (DVC) with a sample of offenders convicted in court jurisdictions without a DVC in terms of offence characteristics, criminal history, and recidivism. This study examined the influence of criminal history as well as spousal conviction and sentence characteristics on the likelihood of recidivism. The analysis brought to our attention some significant differences between the two court types, as well as information on recidivism that is of common knowledge in the field. It is important to note that the data presented in this report cannot be used to determine causal relationships between different variables. In some cases, this relationship was not found to be a strong one between selected variables and the likelihood of recidivism.

As far as differences in offence characteristics for offenders who appeared in DVCs and other Ontario courts, 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. Offenders who appeared in a DVC were 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 the offender's criminal history was examined. 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 different variables on recidivism, the results were not surprising. 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. However, the seriousness of the index domestic violence conviction did not appear to play a statistically significant role in recidivism.

Correlation coefficients corroborated these findings such that the total number of lifetime convictions, total number of prior convictions, sentence for prior conviction, and total number of charges without convictions had the strongest relationship with recidivism, whatever the court type. Offenders' criminal history also obtained strong and significant coefficients in its relationship with recidivism. Finally, logistic regression further reinforced the finding that the existence of prior convictions, prior prison sentence, prison sentence for index domestic violence conviction, and age showed the strongest relationship with recidivism. These same variables influence significantly the severity of the post-2001 offence.

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, offenders who appeared in a DVC were more likely to receive a prison sentence for the index domestic violence conviction than offenders who appeared in other Ontario courts, and they were also more likely to receive a prison sentence for the reconviction.

However, the objectives of the DVC program should be noted in terms of prosecuting and managing domestic violence cases, early intervention, victim support, awareness among criminal justice personnel of the nature and extent of spousal violence, and increase in offender accountability. These important objectives of the DVC program in Ontario cannot be measured in a study such as this, but will be examined in more thorough evaluations of the program.

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, and 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) 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 a 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 contribute to a better understanding of recidivism in domestic violence and may help shape future programs or services to address such recidivism.

Date modified: