Domestic-violence law gets promising overhaul

The scope of violence inside the home targeted at women remains staggering. Numbers from the Ohio Domestic Violence Network continue to tell a grim story:
UIn 2001, social service agencies for victims of domestic violence in Ohio served 185,439 people.
UPolice agencies in Ohio reported 92,000 calls about domestic abuse in 2002.
UMore than 27,000 domestic-violence arrests were made in the Ohio last year.
The data demonstrate that Ohio must remain vigilant in fighting this massive, abhorrent, yet often quiet and underreported crime. Thanks to state Sen. J. Kirk Schuring, a Republican from Canton, the Buckeye State's principal weapon against domestic violence has been strengthened significantly.
Specifically, Schuring's recently enacted amendment provides for much tougher punishment for repeat domestic violence offenders. Formerly, those convicted of more than one offense faced a maximum jail sentence of one year. Since the amended law took effect this month, such scum face a more appropriate, much tougher term of five years.
Dionne M. Almasy, Youngstown city prosecutor, called the meatier sentences "the biggest revision in probably 15 years" to the state's domestic violence statutes.
Clearly, the reform has potential for lasting and measurable impact on two fronts.
First, for the abuser, up to five years of isolation and imprisonment may afford sufficient time for rehabilitation to break years of destructive behavior. For some potential repeat abusers, the specter of a 400 percent increase in jail time may act as a strong deterrent.
More importantly, however, the longer jail term stands to benefit the victim. It gives her (most -- but not all -- domestic violence victims are women) more time to boost self-respect, to become more self-sufficient and to make a permanent break from the abusive household.
Sharpening the teeth of the law, however, does not come without a price.
Dawn Krueger, an assistant Mahoning County prosecutor, expects the new law will increase the number of trials because the possibility of five years in prison will reduce the number of plea bargains.
Increasing workload
Delphine Baldwin-Casey, a member of the Youngstown Police Department's Crisis Intervention Unit, expects the tougher statute will increase workload for agencies that serve battered women, victim-witness groups, police and prosecutors.
Also, with more offenders going to prison, the cost of incarceration for the state's Department of Rehabilitation and Correction could increase by as much as $6.6 million annually, an analysis by the Ohio Legislative Services Commission shows.
In this case, however, the benefits outweigh the costs hands-down. By sending a message that Ohio will seize all weapons possible to battle hideous domestic violence, its staggering scope in Ohio may at last begin to ebb.
To that end, prosecutors and judges in the Mahoning Valley and throughout the state must earnestly embrace and aggressively use this new and powerful tool.