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The next generation of court-mandated domestic violence treatment: a comparison study of batterer intervention and restorative justice programs

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The most common approach to treatment of domestic violence crimes in the United States is the mandated group-based Batterer Intervention Program (BIP). Several alternative treatment approaches have been developed over the years, including a restorative justice-based treatment program for domestic violence offenders called Circles of Peace (CP). This study compared a CP program administered in Arizona with a local BIP program, in controlled settings.


This study involved a randomized controlled trial with 152 domestic violence cases randomly assigned to either BIP or CP between September 2005 and March 2007. Independent sample t tests were used to measure treatment outcomes post-random assignment, in terms of both domestic violence and non-domestic violence re-arrest rates during four follow-up periods (6, 12, 18, and 24 months).


CP participants experienced less recidivism than BIP during all follow-up comparisons. However, statistically significant differences were detected only for the 6-month (p < .1) and the 12-month (p < .05) follow-up comparisons for non-domestic violence re-arrests, and no statistically significant differences were detected for the domestic violence re-arrests.


The findings are generally statistically non-significant at .05. While these results do not suggest a change in policy from BIP to CP for domestic violence crimes, it does dispel the popular belief that restorative justice cannot be used to treat domestic violence criminal activity, in that CP does no worse than the traditional batterer intervention program. Given the low statistical power and high attrition rates, more research is necessary to test CP and restorative justice treatment generally in court-mandated domestic violence cases in order to understand the treatment impact on both domestic violence and non-domestic violence offenders.

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  1. It is the first randomized controlled trial of a restorative justice treatment program specifically designed to address domestic violence. Davis (2009) did a field test of mediation conducted in 1979 on a population of adult felony arrest cases between acquaintances. Almost half the cases were intimate partner violence cases. The cases in the Davis study were either filed in court and prosecuted or were sent to a dispute resolution center for adjudication. Thus, the Davis study differs significantly from ours both in the procedure used and the treatment provided.

  2. In the state of Arizona, domestic violence is defined by the relationship between the victim and the offender and the type of crimes committed. The qualifying relationships include: spouse or former spouse; person residing or having resided in the same household; persons having a child in common; a party who is pregnant by the other party; parent, grandparent, grandchild, stepchild, brother, or sister; and a child who resides or has resided in the same household.

  3. An audit was performed by the research team to check the assignment; 82 participants were assigned to the experimental group and 70 to the control group following the procedures outlined in the article. From a probability theory perspective, the odds of obtaining a difference of 12 units (17 %), with a sample of 152, is within the realm of acceptability.

  4. From September 2005 to August 2007, Portable Practical Educational Preparation, Inc. (PPEP) was the treatment provider as well as the agency that conducted these “fit-for-treatment” evaluations for all CP and most BIP participants; Southeastern Arizona Behavioral Health Services, Inc. (SEABHS) operated as an alternative treatment provider for some of the BIP participants. In 2007, CP personnel who had been administering the CP treatment, incorporated a not-for-profit organization, and therefore PPEP stopped overseeing the CP treatment. The restorative justice treatment was at that point overseen and administered by this new not-for-profit organization called Circles of Peace. Both PPEP and SEABHS continued to provide BIP treatment for the duration of the study period.

  5. Petrosino et al. (2010) found that the average length of follow-up period reported across 27 studies on the effect of formal system processing of juveniles on delinquency was approximately 12 months. Restorative justice studies also normally report 12-month follow-up periods; for example, Sherman and Strang (2007) and McGarrell et al. (2000).

  6. Despite our general support for the instrumental variables technique, there are two more drawbacks that should be noted; both statistically and substantively. First, there is some criticism regarding the use of instrumental variables with limited sample sizes. For example, Hedges (2008) contends that “instrumental variables is a large sample procedure, even when [statistical] assumptions are met it is only guaranteed to be unbiased in large samples.” In this experiment, the number of cases was rather limited. Second, similar interventions are likely to experience similar (non)compliance rates. As we commented in the discussion and elsewhere, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that more than half of domestic violence offenders (and similar clinical interventions as well) do not comply with treatment—including those administered as court-orders (Labriola et al. 2007). Therefore, the treatment compliance rates we observed in this sample may be viewed as a close approximation of treatment compliance distributions in the population, thus justifying the intention-to-treatment approach in such studies as well.

  7. National Science Foundation Grant No. 0964821 and National Institute of Justice Grant No. 2011-WG-BX-0002.


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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 04529330027854000. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. The authors would like to thank Lawrence Sherman and Heather Strang from the Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge for their involvement in this study. In addition, we would like to thank the following individuals for their assistance: Judge Mary Helen Maley, James A. Soto, Rocio Taddei, Roger Hartley, Salmon Shomade, Yael Shy, Danielle Emery, George Chavez, Tina Schweizer, and Andrea Miller. We would also like to thank the following organizations: Santa Cruz County Court, Circles of Peace, Portable Practical Educational Preparation, Southeastern Arizona Behavioral Health Services, and Arizona Department of Public Safety. Finally, we would like to thank the anonymous reviewers of earlier versions of this manuscript as well as David Weisburd.

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Correspondence to Linda G. Mills.

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Mills, L.G., Barocas, B. & Ariel, B. The next generation of court-mandated domestic violence treatment: a comparison study of batterer intervention and restorative justice programs. J Exp Criminol 9, 65–90 (2013).

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