Last week, Maine Focus published a piece describing how a vast majority of domestic violence offenders convicted in Maine courts are not ordered to attend a batterers’ intervention program as part of their probation.
Instead, most batterers are required to complete psychological counseling and anger management, despite broad consensus by experts and state agencies that these treatments are ineffective on their own for domestic violence offenders.
As part of the piece, called “The Offending Dilemma: Maine fails to put batterers in programs that address roots of domestic violence — and pays for it,” I asked readers to share their own ideas for how Maine should deal with batterers.
A total of 206 people responded to the nonscientific survey. Ninety-one percent supported requiring attorneys to have training on the dynamics of domestic violence; 88 percent supported finding a way for very low-income offenders to afford batterers’ intervention; 89 percent wanted more study into the results of the programs; and 92 percent agreed Maine courts should send more offenders to batterers’ intervention.
In addition, 88 percent thought all domestic violence offenders should be required to complete a batterers’ intervention program except in extraordinary cases, and 87 percent said the type of probation a domestic violence offender receives should not vary depending on what county he or she is in.
You also sent in more than 60 of your own ideas for improvements. Here are 33 of them, which have been edited for length and clarity:
Criminal justice improvements
- Maine needs better follow-up to ensure that offenders are completing batterers’ intervention programs or having consequences for not doing so.
- I’d like to see an evaluation as part of pretrial and probation that would clarify the complicated needs of batterers — co-existing needs for batterers’ intervention, substance abuse treatment and mental health, all supervised by a court. I’d like to see new funding that does not take away from funding for a victim’s needs.
- People who have had a restraining order placed against them should also receive batterers intervention.
- For those who re-offend (after intervention), there needs to be mandatory minimum sentences and electronically monitored probationary periods after serving their time.
- Community service is a great way to pay off fines.
- Domestic abusers should be limited to supervised (if any) visitation with minor children.
- Those who are convicted of domestic violence and sexual offenses should not be allowed to complete their probation without completing treatment. If they go back to jail for noncompliance, they should still have to go back and complete their treatment.
- I would like to see more district attorneys follow through with the cases instead of dropping them.
- Maine needs to make the bail system more uniform. For all but the most mild crimes, bail should be set by a judge, and repeat domestic violence offenders should be ineligible for bail. I would like to see some exploration into the possible benefits of a domestic violence court (much like drug court) that would address the needs of the entire family.
- Prevent access to firearms, and require police to inventory weapons upon arrest.
Changes to treatment and batterers’ intervention programs
- Explore the possibility abusers have drug abuse addictions/convictions. Require treatment, in addition to education around coping skills.
- Batterers’ intervention programs are way too expensive, and the 48-week program is longer than it needs to be. The Massachusetts program is 40 weeks long.
- The batterers’ intervention program should be like the one mentioned in the article, not a half-hearted, victim-blaming one that results in the abuser not getting the whole picture.
- I feel there should be more communication, cooperation and collateral corroboration among the stakeholders, as well as education/training for the facilitators of the batterers’ intervention program. There should be consistency in the facilitation of the batterers’ intervention programs throughout the state and careful collection of statistics.
- Reach out to therapists to find ways to implement batterers’ intervention in communities with no local groups.
- Rather than having every county use an identical program, perhaps a variety of programs could be used and the results studied and compared to try to determine what works best.
- I would like to see the batterers’ intervention programs offer consistent programming across the state. Some offenders will travel to other counties because the batterers’ intervention programs aren’t as intense, or they feel they get more out of the other program. We have some work to do around the standards.
Help for victims
- We need more safe places for people affected by domestic violence to go to, in addition to programs for relatives and friends of people affected by domestic violence — maybe something like alcoholics anonymous.
- Maine needs to make it easier to report domestic violence and increase assistance to victims who need to leave a situation. It’s a much greater issue in this state than is realized with a vast amount of under-reporting because of fear, current or future retaliation, etc.
- Consider education for the abuser’s victim and children, so the families understand the motivation behind domestic violence and to alleviate any blame interpreted by the victims.
- I’d like a focus on how many female victims are arrested for domestic violence when defending themselves because people within the justice system do not understand the dynamics of domestic violence.
- Include Gov. Paul LePage and his people on the study with universities and communities. I want more than a public service announcement pledge coming from him. He should take the course and financially support any of this much-needed work and awareness.
- We need more awareness of abusers who use “shared custody” to control their old partners.
- Track recidivism among offenders who complete batterers’ intervention programs, anger management and counseling.
- Ultimately, we need to explore how sexism affects all of our negative perceptions and behaviors.
- The dynamics of domestic violence should be taught in health class in school. It should be common knowledge and treated as such.
- Judges who are sentencing people in domestic violence cases lack necessary training.
- I would like to see this type of training offered to everyone in order to change the cultural norm.
- We need more programs in early education about treating all people with respect. Stop the bullying and control.
- We need to realize that female-on-male violence may well be underreported.
- I would like to see more education of middle schoolers, both boys and girls, in what makes a good relationship versus an abusive relationship.
- Not just lawyers but also judges and law enforcement officers should be educated on the importance of batterers’ intervention programs. Some men may enter these programs willingly before their violence gets out of hand if there are officers who can tell them about the programs. Often the police are called in many times to the home before the violence escalates to the point where charges are made and an individual would come into contact with an attorney.
- Everyone, especially lawyers and judges, needs to understand it’s about power and control. In elementary school, start teaching about power and control in relationships.
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