Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Crime charges in WA courts at 12-year low; recidivism holds

by Matt Rosenberg August 20th, 2013

Total cases filed by prosecutors in Washington state’s criminal courts reached a new low in 2012 compared to the 11 years prior, but the rate at which charged individuals released to the community experience “recidivism” – or being criminally charged again within three years – has continued to hold steady since 2001. It’s been about 50 percent for individuals with domestic violence or “DV” charges classified as current; and about 40 percent for those with older charges of DV or other crimes. The findings come in a new report from the government-funded Washington State Institute for Public Policy. The study explains that charges rather than convictions are used as a leading indicator of recidivism in the comparison groups because in instances of alleged domestic violence, victims often decide not to press the case even if the crime may very likely have occurred.

From Recidivism Trends of Domestic Violence Offenders in Washington State, WSIPP, Aug. 2013

A related WSIPP report issued earlier this year which surveyed the current scientific literature reaffirmed there is no lowering of DV recidivism rates resulting from state’s mandated emphasis on treating DV offenders through the so-called “Duluth model.” That approach accents the causative roles of gender, and social and historical constructs. WSIPP did find research showing that other practices which cut recidivism in the general offender population may also help Washington DV offenders avoid new charges, but that focused in-state tests are needed to better document potential.

Criminal charges at 12-year low
The new report starts out by accenting that total misdemeanor and felony criminal cases filed in Washington local and county courts numbered just 181,985 in 2012 – less than the 2001 low of 187,222 within the 12-year period covered. Nearly four-fifths, or 78 percent of the criminal cases filed in 2012 were misdemeanors, the rest felonies. That divide has held steady since at least 2001.

The per capita rate of non-domestic violence criminal cases filed per 1,000 residents has dropped from just under 35 in 2001 to just under 30 in 2011 while the rate of domestic violence cases filed has held relatively steady over that time at between seven and eight per 1,000.

DV offenders charged more often; and at higher risk for violence
Compared to those actually convicted of non-domestic violence felonies or misdemeanors, current or prior domestic violence offenders in the 2008 cohort were charged with crimes more than twice as often. By a factor of four they were more likely to have earned a high risk classification for violence, according to the WSIPP report.

2001 to 2008 recidivism trends in WA
Charge-based recidivism rates have held relatively steady since 2001. A graph in the report (below, left) shows that from 2001 through 2008 steadily half of individuals with a current DV charge have had some sort of criminal charge filed against them again with three years, versus more than 40 percent for those with older charges of DV or other crimes. When subsequent convictions within three years of a charge are used as the recidivism measure, the rates tend to drop six to eight points based on 2008 data in the WSIPP study.

Domestic violence is defined as “acts or threats of physical harm, sexual assault, or stalking by one household or family member against another…” Because it takes three years to assess whether a released offender will be charged again with a criminal offense, for the purpose of calculating recidivism rates, there is a lag in the data. The most recent year for which the rates are reported in the WSIPP study is 2008, which includes charges filed through 2011 against offenders released in 2008.

From Recidivism Trends of Domestic Violence Offenders in Washington State, WSIPP, Aug. 2013

“Duluth” treatments in WA ineffective
In a related study published in January of this year, WSIPP synthesized the literature of domestic violence or “DV” prevention and surveyed treatments used in other states. The institute reaffirmed earlier findings that Washington’s “Duluth model” for treatment – which emphasizes the crime category is “a gender-specific behavior which is socially and historically constructed” – has no effect on recidivism.

Other approaches show promise
The January 2013 WSIPP study did identify several other approaches to treating domestic violence that in earlier targeted studies cut DV recidivism by an average of one-third but the methods. These included relationship counseling, “cognitive behavioral therapy,” couples therapy and drug and alcohol treatment. Such approaches would have to be tested specifically in Washington State to assess impacts on DV recidivism, WSIPP cautioned.


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