Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

The Role of Police Risk Assessments in Judicial Decisions regarding Domestic Violence Offenses in Israel

Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

The Role of Police Risk Assessments in Judicial Decisions regarding Domestic Violence Offenses in Israel

Article excerpt


Increasing awareness to the issue of domestic violence offenses in Israeli society has led to changes in legislation and enforcement, with an additional degree of severity attributed to domestic violence. These changes have also led the Israel Police to develop an actuarial risk assessment tool to improve the validity of decision-making processes regarding domestic violence. The purpose of this tool was to empower police investigators to assess information from domestic violence complaints, and to derive the best recommended action from that information. Thus, the tool results in uniformity of attitude between various professionals in the law-enforcement system towards domestic violence. To test whether this tool indeed increases uniformity of attitude between various law-enforcement professionals, towards the risk level of the assaulting partner, this study examined all domestic violence offense cases opened in a large city in the south of Israel and analyzed a small sample of protocols from domestic violence investigations that ended with conviction. The study data show that both in requests for remand extension and in penalty judgment decisions, the legal system tends to ignore the risk assessment score provided by the police tool. These data indicate that Israeli legal discourse tends to overlook police risk assessments of domestic violence offenders, which in theory could increase the probability of "false negative" errors in predicting the risk level of an offender. In turn, this may result in additional assaults by violent partners against their victims.

Key words: Domestic Violence; Risk assessment; Court decision


Domestic violence offenses have unique characteristics that differentiate them from other violent offenses. These include, among others, the fact that the perpetrators and victims continue, in most cases, to live together under the same roof; the high level of interaction between domestic partners; and the financial, social and personal dependence of the victim on the violent partner. All these factors necessitate that law-enforcement systems attribute greater consideration to a perpetrator's risk level (Shoham, 2012).

Over the last two decades, risk assessments have become an integral part of the criminal justice procedure in a number of Western countries (Hanson & Morton-Bourgon, 2009).

Risk assessments are perceived as essential tools of law enforcement, as they help distinguish those offenders with a higher probability of committing recurring offenses from those whose risk of recidivism is low. The use of risk assessment to both adequate punishment, and to limit and monitor an offender after release from prison, reflects a transition from a doctrine of deterrence to a selective incapacitation doctrine (Sergovitz, 2008). This doctrine, based on the prevention of future offenses, has attracted considerable criticism mainly because it involves imposing restrictions on the basis of an offender's affiliation with a particular group or other such characteristics rather than on the actual offense committed.

In Israel, the legal and public discourse regarding risk assessment mainly focuses on sex offenders (Cohen, 2010). Unlike with sex offender monitoring, Israel does not have legislation necessitating the submission of risk assessments for domestic violence offenders during the various stages of criminal legal proceedings. Never the less, in 2005 the Israel Police decided to implement a computerized inventory tool to assess the risk levels of domestic violence offenders. This tool was designed to quantify the subjective qualitative assessments of police investigators regarding the risk level of domestic violence offenders.

This study aims to examine the extent to which the legal system in Israel adopts the risk assessment provided by the police for domestic violence offenders, both at the beginning of criminal proceedings, i.e. at the first request for remand extension and towards the end of the proceedings, in arguments for sentencing. …

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