by Keith Guzik. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2009. 238pp. Cloth. $34.00. ISBN: 9780875804033.
Reviewed by Sawyer Sylvester, Department of Sociology, Bates College, Email: ssylvest [at] bates.edu.
Keith Guzik’s ARRESTING ABUSE is based on his research into the practice in many jurisdictions of enhancing the criminal prosecution of domestic abuse cases by adopting mandatory arrest policies for the police and no-drop policies for the prosecution.
The process of arrest has always involved wide discretion on the part of the arresting officer, far beyond the determination of probable cause and often influenced by the demeanor of the offenders as well as the personal feelings of the officer about the seriousness of the harm. Discretion on the part of a public prosecutor is even greater, including the sole and unreviewable discretion whether to prosecute at all, despite the nature of the offense or the seriousness of the harm.
Critics of such discretionary practices might suggest that they are especially dangerous in domestic abuse since failure to arrest in these cases leaves the complaining partner at the mercy of the partner about whom a criminal complaint has just been made. Failure to prosecute may have much the same result.
Mandatory arrest and no-drop prosecution policies have been developed in this context. The former requires police in domestic abuse cases to make an arrest solely on a showing of probable cause, and the prosecutor to go forward in all such cases – even in cases where the abused party recants. The actual criminalization of domestic abuse is unexceptional. After all, the victim of threats and assault is as much a victim of crime as one similarly victimized who is not in a domestic relationship. The exceptional element is the withdrawal of discretion from the agents of the state.
These policies are not without their critics. Some feminists, for example, have suggested that disallowing an abused woman to influence the decision whether to prosecute her abuser is to deny her any agency in the matter and to paternalistically enforce the state’s solution to the problem on her to the exclusion of all other outcomes. And the expanding criminalization of a variety of social problems Guzik feels is yet another example of Jonathan Simon’s concept of “governance through crime” (Simon 2007).
Still, if the end of that “governance” is to reduce the likelihood of the prosecuted domestic abuser reoffending, it must work as an effective deterrent. Guzik observes that what few studies there are of mandatory arrest and no-drop prosecution policies suggest that evidence of their success is quite thin. In addition, he notes that none of the studies has taken into account the [*52] abuser’s own reactions to the experience of arrest and prosecution.
It is not alone what the agents of the state do in regard to the abuser, and the meanings they attach to those acts, but also how those acts are perceived and given meaning by the abuser himself. It is only by considering these meanings that one may then ask whether mandatory arrest and no-drop prosecution policies improve the deterrent force of criminal sanctions. To try to answer that question, Guzik uses a number of techniques to gather qualitative data on the events and perceptions connected to these policies. These include: ride-alongs with police on domestic abuse calls, field research at court hearings, and interviews with thirty individuals arrested and prosecuted for domestic abuse.
Guzik’s observations of police behavior during domestic abuse calls make up the first chapter of the book. He notes that there has been a significant change in the manner in which police deal with domestic violence calls, not only as a result of a high degree of compliance with mandatory arrest policies in place, but also because of general improvement in the organization and education levels of police departments in general. Perhaps such improvements supply a context in which mandatory arrest becomes a more acceptable practice.
The arrival at the scene of domestic abuse by the police is no longer the siren-filled assault it once was. The police tend to be far less confrontational and to introduce the force of the state in such a manner that multiple officers quietly occupy the location and engage in what Guzik calls “the artful distribution of space” (p.31). They separate the abuser from the abused, ensure the safety of officers, and quietly explain why an arrest may or may not be the necessary legal outcome of the events as the police have defined them.
At the end of this chapter, as with all the following chapters, there is a useful discussion section. For the chapter on the police, there is a discussion of the racial implications of mandatory arrest as well as a discussion of “The Gendered Performance of Domestic Violence Policing” (p.48).
In the second chapter on no-drop prosecution, Guzik makes use of the “courtroom workgroup” concept. In this classic bureaucratization of the justice system, the ends of justice are gradually lost in the effort to efficiently process as many cases as possible – an end seen as the greatest good for all parties. Too many cases face courts, prosecutors, and public defenders alike, a problem only made worse by no-drop policies. As a result, it is in the interest of everyone in the “workgroup” to have the accused plead guilty and not go to trial. Guzik describes in considerable detail many of the techniques used to bring this about: aggressive charging, manipulation of bond conditions, and the use of physical evidence in place of reluctant and often unreliable complainants.
A domestic abuser may stoutly protest his innocence at the beginning – and may actually believe it. But the time when that assertion is most crucial is far off, at trial. Long before then, the legal process is engaged in a subtle redefinition of the abuser’s identity and autonomy. First, he is an arrestee, then in jail a prisoner (and if not bonded, [*53] stays that way). At arraignment, he is officially accused and may likely be made subject to a no-contact order, and when he finally meets his advocate, the latter may be more interested in disposing of the case quickly than in trying anything but a sure win. All the while, many will be trying to convince him to cut his losses. And at the end of this process his redefinition of self may have convinced him that he no longer may have much innocence to protest, especially if his vision of innocence has been redefined. As with the previous chapter, the chapter ends with a discussion of the implications of no-drop prosecution for issues of race and gender.
Guzik begins his discussion of the domestic abusers in his study by acknowledging that they can demonstrate a variety of violent and coercive behaviors. Abuse can be “coercive control” alone or with violence, and violence can exist alone or with “coercive control.” Guzik finally selects a typology for his research findings based on one suggested by Michael Johnston (2006) consisting of “situational couple violence” and “intimate terrorism.” Guzik is able, based on police reports, criminal history records, and abusers’ own accounts, to classify 25 of his 30 subjects into one or the other of these two classes.
It is from domestic abusers’ own accounts of their experiences of mandatory arrest and no-drop prosecution that Guzik derives his most interesting and revealing conclusions. The data from these accounts are framed within the context of power but power seen as a social relationship in flux, a relationship in which the justice system usually has the upper hand but which does not deny the abuser all agency. He can resist, create delay, and ultimately play the hole card – insist on a trial, although relatively few abusers do.
Not surprisingly, many abusers faced with the full power of the state, fueled by mandatory arrest and no drop policies, feel that they are being unfairly treated, and for behavior which over time they may have convinced themselves is justifiable. The special procedures of mandatory arrest and no-drop prosecution, together with jail detention, difficult bonding, and no-contact orders, seem to them to be punishment at the beginning of the criminal justice process instead of at the end where it should be. In fact, asserting that their abusive behavior was justified was common to the narratives of Guzik’s subjects. They provided “denials,” “minimizations,” “excuses,” and “justifications” (p.126). But Guzik found in his own subjects two other types of stories: those involving claims of self-defense or other disclaimers of responsibility. In these defenses, the abuser constructs his own identity as a reasonable person acting in response either to a genuine threat to his person or a threat to a traditional masculine identity, a threat by one whom he may have defined as shrewish, manipulative, and irrational.
In the last chapter, Guzik takes up what has to be the most fundamental question, “Does it work?” Do mandatory arrest and no-drop prosecution produce the intended result – desistance from further abuse? Guzik notes that published statistics of recidivism are not encouraging; but, given his small sample, he is less interested in numbers [*54] of failures than in reasons for failure and where hope for success may lie. To find this out he examines the narratives of his subjects as they describe how their lives may have changed after their experience of mandatory arrest and no-drop prosecution. The picture is complex.
Although such policies did effect the immediate removal of the abuser, it was often at the cost of his job and reputation – both of which are iatrogenic to more long-term goals. Interestingly, some men expressed a renewed commitment to religion. But this often only allowed an abuser to create a more pleasing self-image without taking any genuine responsibility for past behavior. Other responses by his subjects, which Guzik refers to as “controlling the self,” freeing the self,” and “fitting the self” he finds equally double edged.
Nonetheless, returning to the distinction he has previously established, Guzik does find more positive outcomes for “situationally violent abusers” than “intimate terrorists,”, indicating that there may be some types of success in some types of abusers. As has been observed by others who have evaluated criminal justice programs, partial success may be the only realistic success one can hope for (Skogan 2006).
In his conclusion, Guzik restates that these mandatory policies are an example of a shift in the way in which domestic abuse is perceived, from a private problem to a public offense. But this shift entails a traditional view of a crime as a discrete event, whereas abuse is more frequently not a single incident of violence but a long subjection to coercive control. The criminal law is practiced in dealing with the former, less capable in dealing with the latter. Still, there are currently practices within the criminal justice system that might have the potential to deal with the ongoing nature of domestic abuse. Restorative justice programs and programs involving continuing court supervision are two that are suggested.
Altogether, this is a valuable book, well written and based on an excellent study. Some may cavil at research involving only 30 subjects. But Guzik makes no pretense that this is a sample from which to formally draw broader inferences. These are simply cases that Guzik mines for all the richness in qualitative data they provide. The implications for social policy he makes on the basis of those data are often imaginative and insightful.
Johnson, Michael. 2006. “Conflict and Control: Gender Symmetry and Asymmetry in Domestic Violence.” 12 VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN 1003-18
Simon, Jonathan. 2007. GOVERNING THROUGH CRIME: HOW THE WAR ON CRIME TRANSFORMED AMERICAN DEMOCRACY AND CREATED A CULTURE OF FEAR. New York: Oxford University Press.
Skogan, Wesley. 2006. POLICE AND COMMUNITY IN CHICAGO: A TALE OF THREE CITIES. New York: Oxford University Press.
© Copyright 2010 by the author, Sawyer Sylvester.