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Maine Bill Would Allow Electronic Tracking of Domestic Violence Suspects
03/29/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Should those convicted of domestic violence in Maine be required to wear an electronic monitor, to let victims track their abusers at all times? Lawmakers are debating that very question, in the form of a bill that's getting a second look at the state house. Under the measure, the state would launch a pilot program for the surveillance system and use global positioning satellites to track those charged in domestic abuse cases. A similar measure failed to win support last year, but while some lawmakers are again raising concerns about funding the program, they also say the devices could save lives.

Susan Lamb has seen and heard plenty of evidence that there are porblems with the state's existing domestic abuse laws. Lamb, who serves as executive director of the National Association of Social Workers' Maine chapter says the stories are often similar.

"The former partners often stalk their clients and that those clients suffer from PTSD because they are never confident of their own personal safety," Lamb said. "This bill provides one additional method of further addressing the personal safety of the victims of domestic violence."

Lamb was among those who testified before the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on a bill sponsored by Republican Leader Ken Fredette. It would launch a pilot monitoring program in four Maine counties within the next two years, and require electronic monitoring of those convicted in criminal domestic abuse cases and awaiting sentencing, as wella s those who've only been charged and are awaiting trial.

Julia Colpitts, executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence is among those who support the use of an irremovable electronic tracking bracelet in those circumstances.

"Electronic monitoring when used appropriately in pre-trial and post-conviction cases where bail is appropriate is, in fact, effective in both increasing victims' safety, increasing offender accountability and encourages effective interdisciplinary work that makes all of the departments work better," Colpitts said.

Dozens of other states already have implemented similar surveillance systems for domestic violence offenders. California has more than 8,000 of the devices in the field. Costs incurred to the state tend to decrease with the number, and those advising a special Maine coalition on domestic violence have estimated surveillance costs at around $4.50 per day.
Colpitts says the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence has identified some initial funding options available to the state.

"One of the pices that you'll see arriving ahead of you with that 2015 implementation time is to look at grant funding which is available for these technologies, and to get an RFP put together so that there can be clear indication of the actual costs," Colpitts said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine was the only agency to register opposition to the bill, and even that could be subject to change. Jill Barclay, of the MCLU, said her organization's opposition was originally based on the likelihood of the policy being extended to those charged in civil offenses, but she and others at the hearing were informed that a forthcoming amended version of the bill would preclude that possibility.

"We're looking forward to seeing the amendments that have been discussed, and we're looking forward to having conversations with several people in this room today and seeing if that is something that we can support in whole or in part," Barclay said.

The committee is expected to work the bill and all proposed amendments next month.


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