A New Tool from Canada Seeks to Reduce Domestic Violence Offenses in Maine

Police officers in Maine are seeking to reduce domestic violence offenses in the new year with a tool from Canada named ODARA, the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment.

The ODARA is a validated checklist of factors that help authorities assess  “the likelihood of whether someone who has previously assaulted a romantic partner will do so again in the future.”

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Photo: Senior Constable Fiona Foxall, Wellington Forensic Imagery

The ODARA assessment was chosen to help reduce domestic violence offenses after Maine passed a law in 2012 that mandated “the use of a standardized, evidence-based risk assessment tool for domestic violence offenders.” The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence explained the law was originally passed as part of an effort to reduce homicides in the state. Roughly 50 percent of homicides in Maine are domestic violence related. In 2014, there were 20 homicides reported in Maine. 13 of the 20 were categorized as domestic violence related. Out of the 13, seven were children under 13. A domestic violence case is reported every 94 minutes.

According to its website, the ODARA “is the first empirically tested and validated domestic violence risk assessment tool to assess the risk of future domestic assault, as well as the frequency and severity of future assaults.”  The ODARA is essentially a scorecard with 13 questions that consider “prior history of domestic abuse, threats to harm or kill a victim, a victim’s concern of future assault, the presence of children and whether there are indications the abuser is using drugs or alcohol.” The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence explains the factors considered are “found to be the strongest predictors of domestic violence recidivism.”

An offender can receive a score anywhere from a 0-13. The higher the score, the more likely the repeat offense. If an offender scores a seven or higher, they are 14 times more likely to reoffend.

Maine is the first state in the U.S. to use the ODARA and will decide whether or not they will offer electronic monitoring of the offender based on the score. District Attorney Maeghan Maloney explains “What I ask the court for, in order to keep the victims safe, is either a bail amount to hold the defendant in jail or the use of an electronic monitor.”

The ODARA sounds like a promising tool in the fight against domestic violence. We are starting off 2015 in the right direction!

Maine Pilots Electronic Monitoring for Domestic Violence Offenders

In October, Maine authorized a pilot program in Somerset County that electronically monitors domestic violence offenders. The jury is still out on the program’s success, but all counties in Maine have already been invited to submit proposals for their own pilot projects to begin next year.

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Maine’s Somerset County commissioners approved use of a Blutag — a one-piece GPS monitoring device for tracking the movement of people charged with domestic violence crimes.

Alongside electronic monitoring, the state also approved the “development of risk assessment protocols and domestic violence response teams to evaluate individual assault cases.” The risk assessment being used, known as the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment, helps determine the level of threat an offender poses to a victim. Depending on the level, the offender receives an ankle bracelet monitor.

In the Somerset County pilot program, a $28,000 ankle bracelet monitor is given to repeat domestic violence offenders before trial , when Kennebec and Somerset County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney says the “chances of a repeat offense are highest.”

This program is a potential game changer. In 2011, a domestic violence offender in Somerset County awaiting for his court day drove to the home of his wife and two children and committed homicide before fatally shooting himself. The victims’ relatives believe electronic monitoring could have saved their family members’ lives. Maloney agrees, “If we had known where he was at all times, this tragedy could have been avoided.”

In addition to saving lives, the program also saves money. In a country where prison overcrowding has become an epidemic, electronic monitoring can help offset this issue when used as an alternative to bail and incarceration. Maloney explains, “Instead of the bail being set at $10,000, the request is, instead, X amount of money for electronic monitoring, it becomes a reasonable request that’s not cost prohibitive for the defendant – in fact it’s less than what the bail amount is.” Maloney already has a case of a domestic violence offender that was given a bracelet rather than posting bail. The offender’s movements are tracked by a Texas firm for the low cost of $7 per day, a fraction of the cost of a prisoner awaiting trial in the county jail.

According to the National Council on State Legislatures (NCSL), there are 23 states either using GPS monitoring, or in the process of obtaining GPS monitoring for Domestic Violence.