We explored death rates from all causes among victims of misdemeanor domestic violence 23 years after random assignment of their abusers to arrests vs. warnings.
We gathered state and national death data on all 1,125 victims (89 % female; 70 % African-American; mean age = 30) enrolled by Milwaukee Police in 1987–88, after 98 % treatment as randomly assigned.
Victims were 64 % more likely to have died of all causes if their partners were arrested and jailed than if warned and allowed to remain at home (p = .037, 95 % CI = risk ratio of 1:1.024 to 1:2.628). Among the 791 African-American victims, arrest increased mortality by 98 % (p = .019); among 334 white victims, arrest increased mortality by only 9 % (95 % CI = RR of 1:0.489 to 1:2.428). The highest victim death rate across four significant differences found in all 22 moderator tests was within the group of 192 African-American victims who held jobs: 11 % died after partner arrests, but none after warnings (d = .8, p = .003). Murder of the victims caused only three of all 91 deaths; heart disease and other internal morbidity caused most victim deaths.
Partner arrests for domestic common assault apparently increased premature death for their victims, especially African-Americans. Victims who held jobs at the time of police response suffered the highest death rates, but only if they were African-American. Replications and detailed risk factor studies are needed to confirm these conclusions, which may support repeal or judicial invalidation of state-level mandatory arrest laws.