AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage said Thursday that he’ll propose legislation next year to expand the use of ankle monitoring devices, including in protection-from-abuse cases.
The proposal from the Republican governor, who has made targeting domestic violence a main focus of his administration, would be a big expansion of the technology in Maine, encompassing people who haven’t been charged with a crime.
LePage spoke alongside Attorney General Janet Mills at a Thursday news conference that unveiled a report from a state panel on domestic violence homicides. There have been 115 in the past 10 years, making up nearly half of Maine’s 244 homicides during that span.
The governor said he’ll introduce a bill in January making ankle monitoring bracelets a condition of bail after domestic violence arrests and other domestic violence cases in which victims seek protection-from-abuse orders.
“You can say you’re violating their rights,” LePage said of the offenders. “Maybe so, but I believe in taking the safe approach because dead people have no rights. We’ve lost them.”
LePage has long endorsed expanding the technology. A bill passed by the Maine Legislature and supported by the governor in 2013 funded pilot programs to use devices to track people accused of domestic violence crimes who are on bail in Somerset, Kennebec and Cumberland counties. Waldo County has followed them.
But those people have been accused of crimes. People in protection-from-abuse cases haven’t always. Between July 2014 and June 2015, there were nearly 5,600 filings for those orders, according to Julia Finn, a spokeswoman for Maine’s court system.
Oamshri Amarasingham, advocacy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said while the group must examine the proposal, “there are constitutional concerns any time the state wants to physically monitor and track people who haven’t been convicted of a crime.”
There also have been past problems with ankle bracelets.
An Associated Press investigation in 2013 found that states were overwhelmed by alert volumes and left some unchecked for days. The Maine Department of Corrections abandoned a program in 2004 that used bracelets to track offenders because they weren’t efficient or effective.
Mills endorsed LePage’s concept, saying it’s something “we’ve been hoping to do for some time,” but “funding is an obstacle,” and so is reliability.
Maeghan Maloney, the district attorney in Kennebec and Somerset counties, said monitoring has “provided peace of mind to many victims,” but the program has “produced challenges that I didn’t expect” at first, including difficulty of monitoring people in rural locations.
The Democrat said it’d be beneficial to expand programs like those in her counties statewide, but she said she’d have to do more research before expanding monitoring to abuse orders, though she said it could be an option for judges.
“But in general, more tools to fight domestic violence is a great thing, and I do applaud Gov. LePage for keeping the focus on ending domestic violence,” she said.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.