A new study following up on a 1980s report about mandatory domestic violence arrest policies in Milwaukee found an increased death rate among victims when suspects were arrested, rather than merely warned, by police, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The foundational question being begged by this research is an important and understudied one: Is the criminal justice system the best societal response to non-felonious domestic assault?,” said Police Chief Edward Flynn. Victims were 64 percent more likely to have died of all causes, such as heart disease, cancer or other illness, if their partner was arrested rather than warned, and among African-American victims, arrest increased early mortality by 98 percent while white victims saw mortality increased from arrest by 9 percent.
Victim advocates described the study as “flawed” for attempting to apply old data to present-day policies. “Thankfully for victims of domestic violence, we don’t live in the 1980s anymore,” said End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin. “Twenty-five-year-old data cannot be used to conclude that domestic violence arrests are dangerous to victims.” The Milwaukee Domestic Violence Experiment from 1987-1989 was done by Lawrence Sherman of the University of Maryland and Cambridge University. The new study was co-authored by Heather Harris of the University of Maryland. Sherman acknowledged that a problem with examining long-term effects is that societies don’t stay the same and conditions can change. He hopes the research prompts more attention about whether these policies are good for victims and if so, which victims.