Bail or Jail? New Test Helps Maine Police Predict Repeat Domestic Violence Offenses

By Gagnon, Dawn | Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME), September 12, 2014 | Go to article overview

Bail or Jail? New Test Helps Maine Police Predict Repeat Domestic Violence Offenses


Gagnon, Dawn, Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME)


BANGOR, Maine -- Maine law enforcement officers are getting a new tool that will help them and others in the justice system determine whether people charged with domestic violence offenses should be eligible for bail or remain in jail.

Beginning Jan. 1, all law enforcement personnel in Maine -- from city and town police officers and sheriff's deputies to state troopers and game wardens -- will be required to use a 13-question evaluation called the Ontario Domestic Abuse Risk Assessment, or ODARA, as part of their domestic violence investigations.

The assessment was developed specifically for police in the field and takes about 10 minutes to administer, Margo Batsie of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, said earlier this week during a training session for area police officers held at the Maine State Police barracks in Bangor.

The idea is to gather information that helps predict if a person being charged with domestic violence assault and related crimes is likely to reoffend, Batsie said. That information -- about the suspect's criminal history, the circumstances of the offense, threats, children in the home and substance abuse as well as any barriers preventing the victim from getting help -- is aimed at assisting bail commissioners, prosecutors and judges in determining if bail should be offered and if so, under what conditions. Justice system officials also are receiving training about the ODARA program, she said.

The program will help put those involved in all aspects of domestic violence complaints on the same page.

In 2012, police responded to 5,593 reported incidents of domestic violence in Maine, according to the Maine Department of Public Safety. Last year, about half of Maine's 25 homicide cases involved domestic violence, according to the Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel, which studies such homicide cases and makes recommendations on how to prevent them.

The problem in Maine is widespread enough that Gov. Paul LePage has made ending domestic violence a priority. Last year, he established a task force to address the issue, charging it with reviewing existing laws and practices to ensure court-issued protection from abuse orders are effective in protecting victims, among other things.

He also signed a law to develop and implement a pilot project for electronic monitoring of high-risk domestic violence abusers, backed successful efforts to amend Maine's bail code for domestic violence offenses and expanded financial resources for victims and their families by requiring abusers to pay into the Victim's Compensation Fund.

Despite efforts in Maine and elsewhere, domestic violence continues to make headlines, as evidenced by the recent controversy over the NFL's handling of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice's violent assault of his then-fiancee.

The new assessment tool is the result of LD 1711, a law the Maine Legislature adopted in 2012. Sponsored by then-Rep. Emily Cain, D- Orono, the law mandates that, by the start of next year, all police use and be trained in how to administer a validated, evidence-based domestic violence risk assessment in cases of suspected or alleged domestic violence.

"We knew that we wanted to use ODARA because of its predictive accuracy of 77 percent. So really, it's the best method out there at this point ... It's also easy to use, quick to use," Batsie said, adding that the assessment uses information that police already gather during the course of their investigations.

Batsie said the tool is meant to be used to help determine the level of risk that an offender will assault an intimate partner again and determine the most effective intervention.

"It's an actuary that predicts the likelihood that someone who has already committed an offense is going to do so again in the future, so we're talking about a recidivism tool at this point," Batsie said, adding that it works similar to actuarial tables insurance companies use when developing policies. …

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