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Courts and Crime

More Maine Counties Using Ankle Monitors to Track Alleged Domestic Abusers

Wikipedia/Creative Commons
A woman wearing an ankle monitor at the beach.

Several counties in Maine are using ankle monitors to track alleged domestic violence offenders before their case goes to trial. While some electronic monitoring programs in the past have been scrapped due to the burden on law enforcement, supporters say ankle monitoring shows promise, for both tracking alleged offenders and helping victims feel safer.

In the summer of 2011, Steven Lake was facing domestic violence charges for allegedly threatening his wife and two children. His court date was in July, but a few weeks before, Lake drove to his estranged wife's home in Dexter early one morning. He entered the house and shot Amy Bagley Lake and their two children — Monica, 12, and Coty, 13 — before shooting himself.

Friends and family of Amy Bagley Lake felt that her death could have been prevented, so they raised money to start an ankle monitoring program for alleged domestic violence offenders awaiting trial. The pilot began about a year ago in Somerset County, where Maeghan Maloney is the district attorney.

"It definitely keeps victims safer, but even more important it makes them feel even safer," she says. "It enables the victim to know the person who assaulted him or her is not sitting in the bushes when the victim is trying to sleep."

Maloney says those who use the monitors have to meet certain criteria.

"The most dangerous offenders should be kept in jail while awaiting trial," she says. "This is for the mid-level offender. The offender who previously would be allowed to be let out on bail and we'd simply try to watch as much as possible."

The ankle monitors allow law enforcement to track alleged offenders 24/7. Those wearing the devices must adhere to inclusion and exclusion zones. The inclusion zone dictates the area perpetrators must stay within at night — usually, their home. The exclusion zones include places where the victim is likely to go.

Earlier this month, about 15 people in Somerset County wore ankle monitors. All that tracking takes resources. In the past, Maloney says, that presented problems.

"The No. 1 challenge: To pay someone 24 hours a day, seven days a week to sit and stare at a computer screen is cost prohibitive," she says.

But Somerset County contracts with a company in Texas that does the monitoring and calls when there's a violation.

"It's actually working well," says Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster. "It gives us another tool to fight domestic violence."

He says the alleged offenders pay the cost of the ankle monitors, which is about $7 a day.

"It's all part of the bail, and the workload is not much greater than what that officer does now," Lancaster says.

Sheriff Joel Merry of Sagadahoc County — which has also piloted an ankle monitoring program for the past year — says because offenders pay the cost of the monitors, there's virtually no cost to the county. But there is a few thousand dollars set aside, he says, to cover the cost for indigent offenders.

Merry says monitors serve the needs of both victims and alleged offenders awaiting trial.

"To allow them to just sit in jail and perhaps lose their job is not doing anyone really any good," he says.

Merry says that he hasn't used the ankle monitors as much as he'd like, because most cases haven't fit the appropriate criteria. But a cautious approach is something that Francine Stark of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence supports.

"I think it's really early days yet in Maine to know how effective this has been," she says.

Stark says the idea shows promise, not only for victims' peace of mind but to provide concrete evidence of alleged abusers' conduct.

"Historically, we've really relied on victims to tell us what offenders are doing," she says.

Other Maine counties also see promise in ankle monitors. Kennebec, Waldo and Cumberland counties are on the cusp of launching their own programs. Faye Luppi of the Cumberland County Violence Intervention Project says it took about a year to create a plan with all the necessary partners: law enforcement, advocates, the district attorney and dispatchers.

"That's important, bottom line, because when that alert goes off, you want the people who are supposed to be responding — the law enforcement officers and the dispatchers and others — to know exactly what they need to do," she says.

To ensure that victims will be safe.