Published: April 17, 2018 By

CU Boulder professor to join congressional briefing on a proposed commission on crime

In the five decades since a landmark presidential commission on crime, cops and courts have begun taking domestic violence more seriously, but much work remains to be done, says Joanne Belknap, a University of Colorado Boulder professor of ethnic studies.


Joanne Belknap

Belknap and 11 other experts will travel to Washington, D.C., next week to give a congressional briefing on the U.S. criminal justice system, particularly what a new crime commission should consider. Belknap will argue for more research on how to ensure victims’ safety and for more efforts to build an integrated community of cops, jails, courts and shelters.

“I do think research is really important, given the frequency of domestic violence and the ramifications of it: how it affects children and neighbors and everybody else, not just the victims,” Belknap said. “This would be a great thing to make a huge investment in.”

The 1967 U.S. President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice called for more research on crime generally. One result was the National Crime Victimization Survey.

The 1967 report did not use the term “domestic violence.” Variously referring to the crime as “matrimonial disputes,” “family altercations,” “conjugal disharmony” and “domestic disputes,” the report said “it would be difficult to formulate policy without first engaging in considerable research.”

Also, Belknap notes, the report represents domestic violence in stereotypical or victim-blaming ways: “An example of this victim-blaming is when a type of crime listed by the Commission is referred to as the ‘killing of an unfaithful wife.’”

Since the landmark report, legislators, cops and courts have responded to feminist criticism and implemented a range of policies and programs to curb domestic violence. For instance, police generally enforce mandatory-arrest policies, which are designed to protect victims from perpetrators. Prosecutors can take suspected abusers to trial even without the consent of victims.

Like other violent crime, the reported rates of domestic violence have fallen in recent decades. But domestic violence—sometimes called “intimate partner violence”—accounts for 15 percent of violent crime. About 10 million Americans are victims each year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports.

Women aged 18-24 are the most likely to suffer intimate partner violence.


Deanne Grant

A bipartisan group of senators has proposed a new U.S. commission on crime. If Congress did form a new commission, Belknap said she would recommend that it focus its attention on better research of the effect of mandatory-arrest policies, the behavior of prosecutors and others in the domestic-violence system, and how police, courts, shelters and others can best collaborate to improve victims’ safety.

Belknap said new research should examine the efficacy of metrics other than whether perpetrators re-offend. Also, research should probe barriers to victims’ seeking help or supporting prosecutions.

The April 24 congressional briefing is being organized by the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy and is supported by the Harry F. Guggenheim Foundation.

Belknap’s recommendations are detailed in a journal article she co-authored with Deanne Grant, a PhD student in ethnic studies. Grant will join Belknap in the capital next week, and their article will be published next month in the journal Criminology and Public Policy, which is devoting a special issue to the 1967 commission report.

The report took two years to complete, spanned more than 300 pages and called for sweeping changes in policing, the judiciary and prisons. President Johnson called it “the most comprehensive and detailed program for meeting the challenge of crime ever proposed in this country.”