Governor Paul R. LePage signed into law Thursday an emergency measure directed at reducing the number of domestic violence victims and ensuring offenders receive the tools they need to eliminate their abusive behavior. L.D. 1237, "Resolve, Directing the Department of Corrections To Amend Its Rules Pertaining to Certification of Batterer Intervention Programs," is a Governor's bill sponsored by Senator Emily Cain (D, Orono). It goes into effective immediately.
"Batterer's Intervention holds abusers accountable for their actions and shows real signs of success in helping to change perpetrators of domestic violence," said Governor LePage. "This bill will ensure that offenders can be sentenced to these programs. That is important for the safety of families across Maine."
"Experts agree that batterer's intervention programs are a critical part of the coordinated community response," says Julie Colpitts, the executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. Recent studies demonstrate that these programs work over time to reduce recidivism, with some studies showing 44 to 64% of men who complete a batterer intervention program do not reoffend over time. This reduces the number of women victims substantially, as well as reduces the number of children exposed to violence." Colpitts helped call attention to the importance of addressing current batterer's intervention program standards, which are not gender neutral.
"As it stands now, certified batterer's intervention programs exist only for men. While 87% of convicted offenders are men, Maine courts have made it clear that certified programs must also be possible for the small group of women who use violence. While there are some programs for women who use violence in Maine, sentencing statutes require that a program be "certified' in order to qualify. So the women's programs don't qualify," Colpitts said. "This bill will give the Maine Department of Corrections authority to move forward with gender-neutral standards."
The Maine Department of Corrections acted quickly with the support from MCEDV and the Maine Association of Batterer's Intervention Programs to adopt gender neutral standards, which went into effect on Thursday after the bill was signed by the Governor. Three programs for women who use violence exist in the state at present. In addition, some women receive services that address their use of violence on an individual basis in domestic violence resource centers. MCEDV resource centers served over 13,000 victims and children last year alone -- Maine's 2011 crime statistics show domestic violence remains a serious crime problem. With a grand total of 13,102-- reported assaults, 5,360 or 40.9% were identified as occurring between household or family members. This has been a stable ratio over the years. Domestic assaults increased 4.7% from the 2010 figure of 5,117. About 40 to 50% of Maine homicides are related to domestic violence. State intervention is necessary.
"Domestic violence is a learned behavior," says Colpitts. "People change when their old behaviors don't work and when they have options for new behavior. Arrest, conviction and mandated batterer's intervention programs clearly show abusers that abusive behaviors don't work. If the offender wants to change, BIPS provide an opportunity to learn new, healthier relationship skills."
In February, Governor LePage announced details of an executive order establishing a new task force to address domestic violence in our State. The task force is reviewing existing laws and practices to ensure that court issued protection from abuse orders are effective in protecting victims of domestic abuse and violence. The task force is just the latest effort led by the Governor on domestic violence, his signature issue.
In addition to raising statewide awareness about these horrific crimes, Governor LePage has worked to amend Maine's bail code to ensure judges determine bail for domestic violence offenses and has expanded financial resources for victims and their families by requiring abusers to pay into the Victim's Compensation Fund.