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Prosecution of Child Abuse: A Meta-Analysis of Rates of Criminal Justice Decisions

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2003
18 pages
A meta-analysis study was performed on the rates of criminal justice decisions in 21 identified studies of prosecution of child abuse
To illuminate the experience of child victims in the criminal justice system, public and professional understanding of the prosecution of child abuse should be based on data, rather than newsworthy cases that may not be representative. Yet, basic data about prosecution of child abuse have not been systematically compiled. However, a number of studies have reported rates for several different decisions related to the prosecution of child abuse cases. This federally funded study analyzed these rates for child abuse cases to address several questions: (1) how often were substantiated or founded cases referred to prosecution; (2) how often were charges filed; (3) how often were cases diverted from prosecution to treatment or other interventions; (4) how often were filed cases carried forward versus diverted or dismissed; (5) how often did child abuse defendants plead guilty versus go to trial; (6) how often were child abuse defendants convicted; and (7) how often were convicted defendants incarcerated? A total of 21 studies of prosecution of child abuse were identified in order to perform a meta-analysis study. Rates were calculated for various decision points in the prosecution of child abuse, and comparison data were gathered from 12 national studies of prosecution in urban areas conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice from 1977 to 1998. Data were aggregated across studies for the following rates: referral to prosecution, charging, diversion, carrying forward, pleading guilty, going to trial, conviction, and incarceration. The data demonstrate that most substantiated and founded child abuse cases do not lead to prosecution but that the majority of cases that are prosecuted do end in conviction, the great majority by guilty plea. The results suggest that using rates to define prosecution success could be misleading. The research is limited by the relatively small number of studies available. Future research was seen in three directions: (1) more research on rates; (2) more could be done meta-analyzing studies of prosecution rates; and (3) research must go beyond rates. In other words, evaluation of prosecution must move beyond prosecution rates and conviction rates. References

Date Published: October 1, 2003