Rebecca Stewart: 513-479-3335


Over-Incarceration of Black Men: State Officials Need to Take Prompt Action for Upcoming Senate Hearing

WASHINGTON / October 4, 2021 – Governors, state lawmakers, attorneys general, and local prosecutors are urged to speak out in advance of tomorrow’s hearing in the U.S. Senate regarding the reauthorization of the federal Violence Against Women Act (1). Biased domestic violence policies, often lacking a scientific basis, have been identified as a major cause of the over-incarceration of Black men, and are known to have broader collateral effects on low-income communities.

Black men are more likely to be victims of partner abuse than Black women, according to the Centers for Disease Control (2). But inexplicably, Black men are four times more likely than Black women to be arrested for domestic violence. Each year, about 27,000 Black men, compared to only 6,300 Black women, are arrested for domestic violence (3).

Domestic violence laws are a major cause of these disparate arrests:

  • 22 jurisdictions have implemented mandatory arrest laws for allegations of domestic violence (4).
  • 33 states mandate arrest for violation of a restraining order (5).
  • Most prosecutors have adopted “no-drop” policies that mandate the prosecution of questionable cases (6).
  • Many jurisdictions have implemented “predominant aggressor” policies that unfairly stereotype men as abusers (7).

One public policy group notes that “Domestic violence polices are central to the development of mass incarceration in the U.S. from about 1980…. Indices of police and prosecutors’ more aggressive criminalization of domestic violence show rapid growth in the mid-1980s.” (8)

One promising approach is the establishment of domestic violence diversion programs, which are currently operating in the following locations: Orange County, CA, Lakewood, CO, Broward County, FL, Delaware, Butler County, KS, Kootenai, ID, Kane County, IL, Michigan, Cape Girardeau County, MO, Washington County, OR, Philadelphia, PA, Winnebago County, WI, and elsewhere (9).

The over-incarceration of Black men is not only a stain on basic notions of justice, it also harms their children and communities. These collateral effects include worse school performance, poorer psychological well-being, higher risk of depression, and greater likelihood of falling into poverty. Many believe that father absence is to blame for many of the most intractable social ills in society (10).

Forty-six state domestic violence/sexual assault coalitions have expressed regret for the over-emphasis on “increased policing, prosecution, and imprisonment as the primary solution” to domestic violence, and called for approaches that emphasize mental health solutions (11).

There is little or no evidence that VAWA-funded programs have succeeded in reducing rates of domestic violence (12):

  • “We have no evidence to date that VAWA has led to a decrease in the overall levels of violence against women.” — Angela Moore Parmley, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice
  • “Between 2000 and 2010, rates of domestic violence actually fell less than the drop in the overall crime rate – at a time when VAWA was pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the criminal system.” — Leigh Goodmark, Professor, University of Maryland Law School

Worse, mandatory arrest policies may be contributing to an increase in partner homicides, according to a milestone Harvard University study (13).

The Senate hearing will begin at 10am Eastern time on Tuesday, October 5. State officials are urged to contact their senators directly, or call them at (202) 224-3121. The VAWA hearing needs to emphasize substantive discussions to end the problem of mass incarceration of Black men.


  2. Tables 5.3 and 5.6.
  9. CEDV (2021). Diversion Programs for Domestic Violence: From Retribution to Rehabilitation.
  12. SAVE (2021). Women Say VAWA Programs Lack Effectiveness.