A new law will put money behind programs designed to change the behavior of domestic violence offenders.
LD 525, which passed the Maine Legislature in June and became law without the governor’s signature, will provide the first public financial support for batterers’ intervention programs in Maine, allowing the programs to enroll offenders without the means to pay. The programs have so far been supported by participant fees.
For many years, most offenders have been required as part of their probation to attend anger management classes or some type of psychological counseling, which can be covered by MaineCare, Maine’s version of Medicaid.
However, anger management and counseling have not been shown to reduce reoffense rates, while there’s evidence that those who complete batterers’ intervention programs are less likely to assault their partners again.
Unlike anger management and counseling, batterers’ intervention programs are designed to address patterns of violent and controlling behavior, must be certified by the state and have to work with local domestic violence resource centers. The collaboration allows the programs to ensure victims receive updates about the progress of their abuser.
One reason courts haven’t required more offenders to participate in the 48-week batterers’ intervention programs is because the offenders can’t afford it. Programs have historically cost about $35 per week.
In 2016, about 62 percent of male domestic violence offenders were ordered to attend anger management or counseling, while only 38 percent got batterers’ intervention, according to the Maine Department of Corrections. Some probationers had more than one condition.
Domestic violence is “a pattern of behavior that’s ongoing, that’s based on this person’s whole belief system about how things are supposed to be. It’s not about impulse control,” said Francine Garland Stark, executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence.
“Batterer intervention programs are uniquely about challenging that worldview by engaging in thoughtful dialogue about: What is it that you’re doing? What is it you’re trying to do? What’s the impact of what you did? How can you act differently?” she said.
The new law will provide $100,000 each year — for fiscal years 2019, 2020 and 2021 — to partially cover the fees for those who can’t pay. No offender will participate for free; the state money will cover a portion of the program costs based on participants’ income.
The law will take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns a special session, for which it is expected to return this week.
An additional $50,000 each fiscal year will pay for administrative expenses to be handled by the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, facilitator training and mileage reimbursement for batterers’ intervention program staff who have to testify in court about their clients.
“Neither we nor the Legislature see this as a panacea. This is about strengthening one important component to help people change their behavior,” Stark said.
Legislators, victim advocates, batterers’ intervention program staff and the Maine Department of Corrections have contemplated changes to encourage the use of batterers’ intervention for several years.
In 2015, the Legislature ordered a review of the use of batterers’ intervention programs around the state. The group that did the review, the Maine Commission on Domestic and Sexual Abuse, came back the following year with a suggestion to “create a statewide fund to support truly indigent participants identified through meaningful means testing.”
In its final report, the commission also made another recommendation that became law. Starting in 2017, if a court didn’t order someone to complete batterers’ intervention, it had to record its reason for not ordering it. While judges aren’t mandated to require batterers’ intervention, the new law essentially made it the preferred option.
Most domestic violence-related convictions are held by men. According to the corrections department, there were 1,070 male domestic violence offenders with probation conditions, compared with 174 women, in 2016. Certified batterers’ intervention programs weren’t available for women until the last few years.
Their probation conditions varied depending on where they were convicted. Washington County sent the fewest men to batterers’ intervention in 2016: Just one, which represented 3 percent of the county’s male offenders. Franklin and Knox counties also sent a small percentage (both at 13 percent), followed by Hancock (16 percent).
Five counties sent half or more than half of their male offenders to batterers’ intervention: Somerset (62 percent), Aroostook (55 percent), York (55 percent), Kennebec (53 percent) and Sagadahoc (50 percent).
The remaining counties were as follows: Waldo (29 percent), Androscoggin (26 percent), Lincoln (32 percent), Cumberland (39 percent), Oxford (41 percent), Penobscot (41 percent) and Piscataquis (48 percent).