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Victims to be informed under new state policy
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Staff Writer
Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel 12/12/2009


Staff Writer

The state panel that oversees county jails has adopted two new policies to inform victims of violent crimes and domestic violence when the offender in their case is released from custody.

The nine-member Maine State Board of Corrections approved the two policies Dec. 2.

The first states victims of violent crimes such as aggravated assault must be notified after an offender finishes his or her sentence and is released.

The other policy is specific to victims of domestic violence: They will be notified when an offender leaves jail, either after serving his or her sentence, or by posting bail.

Development of these policies started more than two years ago, said Denise Giles, a victim-services coordinator for the state who said focus advisory groups working with the Board of Corrections wanted to ensure a uniform policy for all 16 counties.

"When (Gov. John) Baldacci proposed jail consolidation, one of the first questions was, 'What will the impact be on victims?'" Giles said. "We wanted to make sure everyone was doing business the same way and that, no matter where an inmate is being housed, the (notification) process would be the same."

Another challenge is determining how to notify domestic-abuse victims when an offender is released on bail.

Tina Tucker, community educator for New Hope For Women, said alleged offenders or abusers can often quickly post bail and be released within hours.

"Bail can be made in the middle of night, many times. So notifying a victim becomes a little more urgent," Tucker said. "The other piece is the victim giving good contact information, especially when the abuser is released from jail after serving their sentence. If the victim moves away and does not update the jail, that will make things difficult."

Kate Snyder, the Board of Corrections' development program manager, said the new policies are specific to the county jail system. Maine's prisons have their own notification policies, she said.

For victims of violent crimes, notification of release can be made either by telephone or a letter, depending on conditions attached to the defendant's release.

Under the new policy, jails are mandated to inform victims, or their immediate families, upon the release of persons convicted of violent crimes such as murder, rape, sexual assault, or if the victim is a minor who was sexually exploited.

For victims of domestic violence, policy stipulations are slightly different. Notification of victims must be made explicitly over the telephone, Snyder said. To ensure this, the victim's contact information should be provided to the jail upon the suspect's arrest and flagged for future reference.

In the event a victim cannot be contacted, the victim advocate in the prosecutor's office will instead be notified by jail staff.

Snyder said jails are required to make "every effort" to contact either the victim or the victim advocate, and must document all attempts.

However, she added, there is "no liability on the jail's inability to contact a victim."

Domestic violence prevention advocates said the policy represents progress, but stopped short of calling it a solution.

"These are situations that are fraught with danger, and they must be handled very carefully," Naomi Schalit, executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, said of alleged abusers being released from jail.

"The department is sensitive to these issues and came up with a policy that will hopefully address the needs of victims," she added. "But no one should think just because this policy is in place that victims are totally safe, because they aren't."

Tucker said the policies do not create "perfect system, but it's moving us toward a plan we can have confidence in."

"Having a plan that is consistent, however, and encouraging victims to provide good contact information will increase victim safety," Tucker said. "And anything that will accomplish that is wonderful."

Meghan V. Malloy -- 623-3811,

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