Grant boosts help for domestic abuse victims in Cumberland County

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PORTLAND —  A 15-month, $50,000 grant to Cumberland County will be passed on to Maine Pretrial Services and Through These Doors to help the nonprofits dovetail services and resources to help protect victims of domestic violence.

“We are really excited about this; working with a national grant is phenomenal,” Jen LaChance, director of advocacy and victim services at Through These Doors, said Monday.

The grant, from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, is part of a $148 million effort spread over five years designed to reduce incarceration. Twelve grant recipients were added this year, bringing the nationwide total to 191.

The grant to Cumberland County allows the Sheriff’s Office, Maine Pretrial Services and Through These Doors to develop and coordinate a network of referrals and resources while reducing duplicate and overlapping services.

“It will allow us to do the work more effectively and efficiently, and have an impact on recidivism, appearance rates and technical violation rates,” Shawn P. LaGrega, Maine Pretrial Services deputy director, said Oct. 25.

LaGrega said the grant will also allow both agencies to become more familiar to each other and understand the specific roles they play in keeping people from returning to jail.

Maine Pretrial Services works with county courts and first and second offenders charged with nonviolent crimes to provide alternatives to incarceration.

Through These Doors provides services, advocacy, shelter and referrals for victims of domestic violence. The nonprofit has offices in Portland, Brunswick and Bridgton, and a helpline at 800-537-6066 or 874-1973.

District courts in Cumberland County are in Portland, West Bath and Bridgton, and Through These Doors is there to help people facing court hearings to extend temporary protection orders.

Through These Doors also offers group sessions for women held at the Cumberland County Jail and Maine Correctional Center in Windham. 

Jenny Stasio, director of operations for the nonprofit, said staff worked with 150 women in the first six months of 2018.

“It is helpful in that setting, but hard to make links back in the community,” she added. “That is what we are hoping to strengthen.”

Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce said his department is only acting to pass the funding through to the agencies, but he is always open to efforts to reduce the jail population and keep inmates from returning.

“It gives us one more avenue of pre-release planning,” Joyce said Oct. 26. “Our inmates are sometimes victims, so having them work inside is good.”

A similar program is Project Reentry, funded through a $650,000 U.S. Department of Justice grant, though the scope there extends beyond victims of abuse. Joyce said the Project Reentry grant paid for someone to help coordinate resources and services to ensure all prisoners can get the help they need.

As of Oct. 26, there were 410 inmates at the jail, 54 of them women. While the total population may fluctuate, and the jail will hold inmates from other jurisdictions, the 13-15 percent rate of female prisoners is typical, Joyce said.

What is also typical is that people released from jail have few places to go, and can end up back in unsafe situations and environments. 

“We try to help them have a broad safety net when they are released,” Stasio said, adding if former inmates have been getting services, the agencies help them reconnect.

David Harry can be reached at 780-9092 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Alice Barakagwira and Jen LaChance provide advocacy and assistance for victims of domestic violence at Through These Doors. A $50,000 grant will build stronger ties with Maine Pretrial Services.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.