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School closures, shelter-in-place, and crime and legal proceedings

Across the world, Covid-19 shelter-in-place rules have limited mobility and required most adults and children stay at home. Men and women face increased stress from fear of coronavirus infection, economic uncertainty, job loss, or increased child-care obligations. Limited contact with neighbours, co-workers, and friends increase feelings of isolation and interact with other stressors. In this study, we examine the impact of these Covid-19 related events in the United States, on crime. Our first research question is to examine the effects on intimate partner violence and child abuse. As governments restrict movement due to the spread of Covid-19, there have been widespread claims of increases in domestic abuse globally. UN Secretary-General António Guterres referred to a ‘Horrifying Surge’ in domestic violence due to coronavirus lockdowns (UN 2020). Some of the evidence supporting this claim include increases in domestic abuse hotline calls, anecdotal case studies/stories from victims, increased Google searches for help with domestic violence, and increased domestic violence arrests. Across the globe, multilateral organizations, countries, and local governments are bracing for increased need to support domestic violence victims. On March 27, the United States government budgeted $47 million for domestic violence from its coronavirus relief package; several state governments have followed suit, earmarking emergency funds for domestic violence. Using administrative data, our study will document effects on a) google searches, b) 911 calls, c) arrests and bookings, d) inpatient and outpatient hospital admissions. Our second research question will examine effects on domestic legal proceedings. The events surrounding Covid-19 may have more broad effects on domestic legal proceedings. For example, changes to the judicial system may affect abuse victims’ ability to file restraining orders, file for divorce, or manage child custody cases. Using administrative data, our study will examine effects on family court proceedings. Our third research question will examine effects on crime. We will study changes in cause of death, arrests, impacts of inmate release and how the shelter-in-place and social distancing orders affect other types of crime. Across these areas, we will examine heterogeneity across race, income, household demographics, geography and occupation.

Lead investigator:

Scott Cunningham


Baylor University

Primary topic:

Crime & policing

Secondary topic:

Health, physical & mental

Region of data collection:

North America

Country of data collection


Status of data collection


Type of data being collected:

Publicly available