Effect of State Warrantless Arrest Laws for Domestic Violence Cases on Youth Mental Health and Behavioral Outcomes

Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Lobby (Annenberg Center)

Author(s): Kabir Dasgupta


The primary objective of this study is to examine the relationship between implementation of state warrantless arrest laws for domestic violence on multiple youth outcomes related to their mental health and risky behavior. Domestic violence accounts for 21% of all violent crimes every year. In addition to various long-term opportunity costs, the direct economic costs associated with domestic violence incidents amount to more than 37 billion dollars annually. Although young women remain at the highest risk of victimization of domestic violence, children ages 3 to 17 years are also among the worst sufferers of domestic violence. In particular, nearly 3 million children are affected by domestic violence every year in the U.S. Evidence from domestic violence literature suggests that exposure to domestic violence leads to various social, emotional, behavioral, and health-related problems among children. Moreover, children and teenagers subjected to domestic violence are also likely to have poor academic performance and face higher risk of substance misuse. 

Over the past few decades, governments at all levels have enacted policies to reduce domestic violence and the costs it imposes on society. In particular, the Federal government enacted the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act in 1974, Family Violence Prevention and Services Act in 1984 and Violence against Women Act in 1994. In addition to federal laws all states have enacted various policies to mitigate domestic violence. Among these state laws are the warrantless arrest laws for domestic violence incidents. States’ warrantless arrest laws for domestic violence cases are classified under three categories: mandatory arrest (the suspected abuser must be arrested), preferred arrest (arresting the abuser is a preferred action) and discretionary arrest (the decision to arrest the suspected abuser is left to the discretion of the law enforcement officer). To date, no study has examined the impact of these laws on a potential victim’s outcomes.

Using variation in timing of implementation of arrest laws for domestic violence across states as exogenous source of variation, differences-in-differences analyses are utilized in multiple, large-scale data sets of nationally representative samples (Youth Risk Behavior Survey, Uniform Crime Reports, Current Population Survey, and Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System) to study the impact of these laws on multiple policy-relevant outcomes. Main findings indicate that warrantless arrest laws lead to reduction in probabilities of suicide ideation and substance use behavior but increase chances of dropping out of high-school for general youth. Further, adolescent girls are less likely to- have suicidal thoughts, engage in sexual risk-taking behavior, frequently consume excessive alcohol and use substance in general. However, probablities of getting involved in physical fights and dropping out of high-school increase for young males with passage of the arrest laws. The analysis also accounts for heterogeneity in warrantless arrest laws across states. The findings are robust to multiple sensitivity checks to address key threats to identification. Conclusions drawn from this study will be useful for policy makers as they develop strategies to further reduce problems related to domestic violence and its related harmful effects on the society.