Maine Experiments with Electronic Tracking of Domestic Violence Offenders
Last month, Maine quietly began electronic monitoring of domestic violence offenders by authorizing the one-time use of the device in Somerset County. Now, all of Maine's counties will be invited to submit proposals for active electronic monitoring for additional pilot projects that could be in place by January. Authorized by the Maine Board of Corrections, the $36,000 start-up pool could also be significantly increased by a bill proposed by one Maine lawmaker.
Three years ago, while waiting for his court date to arrive on domestic violence charges, Steven Lake drove to the Dexter home where his wife and two children were living. Then he murdered them all before turning his shotgun on himself.
To this day, the victims' relatives continue to tell county prosecutor Maeghan Maloney that, while questions persist in the aftermath of those tragic deaths, there is one thing they are sure of: "If we had known where he was at all times, this tragedy could have been avoided," Maloney says.
Although the option for active electronic monitoring was not in place in Maine at that time, Maloney says there have been some significant advances since 2011. Grants and local charitable events allowed the district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties to raise about $28,000 for an ankle bracelet monitor. The device could be worn by a person charged with a domestic violence offense before trial, when Maloney says the chances of a repeat offense are highest.
The state has also approved the development of risk assessment protocols and domestic violence response teams to evaluate individual assault cases. The most important aspect of the process, Maloney says, involves determining the level of threat an offender poses to his victim. She says that's accomplished through an evaluation known as the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment, or ODARA for short. And in those instances, Maloney says, electronic monitoring can be an alternative to bail.
"So if the score's six or greater, we want to be looking at electronic monitoring," Maloney said. "Well, in those cases, we're asking for, generally, tens of thousands of dollars for bail money. If 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 fitted one man charged in a domestic violence case with a monitor bracelet in lieu of posting bail. With the offender's movements monitored by a Texas firm at a cost of $7 per day, the program is a fraction of the cost of boarding a prisoner awaiting trial in the county jail.
Joel Merry, chair of the Maine Board of Corrections, says the program provides the same goals as bail with greater protection for the domestic violence victim. "This was as an alternative to keeping them in jail," Merry says. "You know exactly where they are and what they're doing."
Merry's board has approved the release of $36,000 raised by Gov. Paul LePage, and through events held on behalf of Steven Lake's victims in Dexter, which will be used for electronic monitoring pilot projects. The money will be available to all counties that may compete for the funds by submitting proposals to the board by Dec. 2.
State Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, a Brunswick Democrat and outgoing co-chair of the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, supports the program, but he says all of the established protocols must be in place. "If the county's going to do this, the risk assessment has to be perfect - there's no room for wiggle," Gerzofsky says.
House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport has sponsored other domestic violence bills in the past. He says Maloney's experience with electronic monitoring is encouraging. "As this pilot project moves forward and proves itself successful, I think, then, we need to really look at what will be a funding stream for this," Fredette says.
Fredette hopes to introduce a bill next year that will channel as much as $500,000 into the program as part of the state budget.