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Services Needed to Address Domestic Violence Between Partners Following Incarceration, Study Shows

Researchers say that an expansion of domestic violence services is needed for families reuniting after incarceration

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — New research published by RTI International (RTI), a nonprofit research institute, suggests that couples reuniting after incarceration face serious challenges related to domestic violence and many barriers to accessing help. The open access, peer reviewed briefs were published by RTI Press.

Findings from the qualitative study of nearly 170 participants evaluated instances of domestic violence by interviewing men and women around the time of a male partner’s return from prison. Half of the participants reported physical violence during the first six months after the male partner’s return from prison. Although researchers and advocates have long raised concerns about domestic violence after incarceration, few programs or policies exist to help prevent the problem.

“An urgent need exists to address the obstacles that domestic violence victims face when seeking help, particularly in couples that have already had contact with the criminal justice system,” said Tasseli McKay, Social Science Researcher in the Youth, Violence Prevention & Community Justice Program at RTI. “Domestic violence victims who do access scarcely available services often feel that the burdens and costs of doing so are high.”

 Currently, almost half of Americans have experienced incarceration of an immediate family member and nearly one in five women have had an incarcerated partner. Reports of domestic violence in such families are extraordinarily high, often much higher than in the general population.

Researchers suggest that post-incarceration domestic violence might be prevented through systemic change across multiple levels of social and environmental influence. Findings underscore not only the need to tailor victim services to welcome those who may be wary of further criminal justice system contact, but show steps need to be taken to shift public policy and community infrastructure.

“The stories we collected call attention to the unique obstacles returning prisoners and their partners face in even defining their experiences as problems,” said McKay. “That, and the serious shortage of relevant, accessible victim services, can leave victims with very few options.”

To read the research briefs, please visit here and here