(Host) As Vermont lawmakers gear up for next year’s legislative session, state representative Kurt Wright unveiled plans yesterday for a new bill on civil commitment.
The measure would allow the state to hold people convicted of violent sex crimes after they complete their prison sentences.
VPR’s Ben Embry reports:
(Embry) Under Wright’s proposal, sexual offenders could be held beyond their sentence until they complete treatment programs and officials deem that they no longer pose a threat to society.
Governor Douglas backed a civil commitment bill last year but it never made it out of committee. And he’s made it a top legislative priority this coming year.
Legislators did pass legislation this winter that increased penalties for violent crimes, boosted funding for special investigative units and appropriated additional money for prevention programs.
But Wright, a Burlington Republican, says that bill only applies to sexual offenders who are convicted after the bill takes effect in July.
(Wright) “But our current corrections population, when their sentence ends, regardless of whether they’ve been rehabilitated or considered to be too dangerous to be released, they have to be released when their sentence is up. So, again, we have not addressed that one part of this. And so for the next 15 to 20 years, we’re going to continue down this path of releasing people who really are not safe to be released into anyone’s neighborhood.”
(Embry) Wright’s civil commitment bill seeks to bridge that gap by targeting only those sexual offenders currently in state custody.
A source of contention between lawmakers debating last year’s civil commitment proposal was the cost of the program.
But Wright hopes a new federal grant program to help states enact civil commitment laws will ease legislators concerns over the cost of the program.
(Wright) “We’re very excited about the potential of this federal grant program and that Congress has recognized, not one party but both parties have recognized the need for these laws to better protect the public and creating the grant program with the idea of creating an incentive to encourage states to pass these laws.”
(Embry) Under the $10 million grant program, Wright says states could apply for federal aid to help pay for the costs associated with civil commitment laws.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Ben Embry.