Published: June, 2014| Julie Colpitts, Faye Luppi, Edited by Stephanie Avalon

Following a dramatic series of domestic violence murders and suicides in the summer of 2011, the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence (MCEDV) began a statewide initiative to reduce domestic violence homicides and serious assaults.

In the first phase, MCEDV engaged stakeholders to identify high-risk behaviors and gaps in the coordinated community response. There was consensus that Maine had difficulty identifying high-risk situations early on, lacked a common language to talk about risk and did not effectively utilize scarce resources in an integrated and strategic way to prevent further violence.

In addition, other elements of the homicide reduction initiative, such as high-risk response teams, electronic monitoring and enhanced safety planning, all required effective risk assessment. MCEDV partnered with the Violence Intervention Partnership (VIP), a project of Cumberland County Government, as a content expert. They moved forward to co-chair a task group in the multi-disciplinary Maine Commission on Domestic and Sexual Abuse (the Commission) which took on a year-long study of risk assessment tools and processes. From the beginning, evidence-based risk assessment was seen as a critical element in the larger initiative to prevent homicide and reduce harm.

Based on a year-long study of risk assessment in Maine and other jurisdictions, the Commission in 2012 recommended to the Maine State Legislature that Maine risk assessment practice be updated to include the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment (ODARA) tool. ODARA predicts which cases of domestic violence have an increased likelihood of future violence and require more careful monitoring or intervention by the justice system; it also leads to more effective resource allocation. Its predictive accuracy of 77% is the best there is in validated, evidence-based DV risk assessment tools without involving tools requiring clinical expertise.

“Today our knowledge has vastly improved. After decades of experience managing offenders and analyzing data, practitioners and researchers have identified key factors that can help predict the likelihood of an individual returning to crime, violence or drug use. The instruments that have been developed… to measure the likelihood of future criminal behavior can help officials to better identify individuals at a high risk of re-offending… and target interventions to reduce recidivism, improve public safety and cut costs.”

- PEW Center Public Safety Performance Project

What is the ODARA?

The ODARA, a validated, evidence-based tool, was developed by Canadian researchers to be completed by law enforcement in the field. It relies on criminal records and the results of a DV investigation to predict likelihood of re-assault by male offenders against female (current or former partners). Recent research has also validated the ODARA for use with dating partners, and female offenders. It is not yet validated for use with same-sex partners, but research is ongoing. The higher the ODARA score, the greater the likelihood that someone with that score would reoffend; for example, offenders in the highest ODARA risk category (those who scored 7-13 points) were 14 times as likely to recidivate as offenders in the lowest risk category (those who scored 0 points).

The ODARA also predicts time until a new assault, number of new assaults, and severity of new assaults. To score the assessment takes approximately ten minutes by experienced users; it may be scored with up to five items missing. Several options exist to train officers to use the instrument.

"[T]he ODARA also predicted time until a new assault, number of new assaults, and severity of new assaults; no other DV risk instrument has a documented ability to do all this.”

- Evidence-based Risk Assessment of DV Offenders

Maine’s Statewide Approach

Informed by the Commission research, the Maine legislature in 2012 mandated that beginning in 2015, trained law enforcement officers must collect the information necessary to complete the ODARA at appropriate domestic violence calls and score the ODARA. Results will be made available to prosecutors, officials setting bail and judges, as well as community domestic violence advocates. This allows the direct observations of the officer at the scene to be carried forward using a common language to decision makers. Maine law allows for domestic violence advocates who have MOU’s with law enforcement agencies to have police reports within 24 hours of an arrest. Advocates provide outreach with an awareness of risk levels from the first contact.

Policies and training on ODARA for law enforcement have been developed by the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in partnership with the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence and the Violence Intervention Partnership of Cumberland County. The Saco, Maine, Police Department has also provided policy and training expertise based on their experience with using the ODARA for over five years. ODARA training for all law enforcement officers is one of the state mandated trainings for the year 2014-2015. Training was also developed about risk assessment in general and ODARA for other decision-makers in the criminal justice system.

How the ODARA Will Be Used

Once an offender has been identified as “high-risk” for re-offending, the next question becomes what is the appropriate intervention? The legislators chose not to mandate the intervention, recognizing that each local jurisdiction will have to determine the answer based on the need and available resources. Risk assessment information is already being used in Maine in setting bail, pretrial supervision decisions, determining level of supervision by probation officers, and especially by high risk response teams to provide enhanced safety planning.

In its 2012 report, the Commission recommended that risk assessment tools be used as “one tool in a toolbox,” to provide context, guidance as to what questions should be asked, and for help in thinking through the dynamic elements of a particular case. The Report identified best practices for effective intervention in the criminal justice system, highlighting the High Risk Intervention teams being piloted by the Violence Intervention Partnership and domestic violence resource centers in Maine. These multi-disciplinary teams meet on a regular basis to share information, as guided by state and federal statutes, and to review status of the offender or victim identified as “high risk,” with a focus on individualized safety planning and offender accountability. In addition to an integrated team approach, first responders, decision makers, and service providers such as advocates can also intervene in response to a “high-risk” determination.

For more information, contact Julia Colpitts, Executive Director, Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence at: or Faye Luppi, Project Director, Violence Intervention Partnership at: