Civil commitment plan top priority for Douglas

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says he doesn’t believe lawmakers went far enough this year to protect Vermonters from violent criminals.

Douglas says the passage of a bill that allows the state to keep dangerous inmates in jail beyond their sentences will be one of his top priorities if he’s re-elected.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Douglas acknowledged that the Legislature did pass an important crime bill this winter.

The law increases penalties for violent crimes, it boosts spending on special investigative units and it appropriates additional funds for prevention programs

But Douglas says the law doesn’t go far enough – he wants Vermont to pass a civil commitment plan – it’s a proposal that lawmakers rejected this year.

Under this plan, a person convicted of a violent crime, could be held in state custody well beyond their sentence if the individual hasn’t completed treatment programs in prison and is thought to pose a danger to the public.

Douglas says it seems to him that “legislative leaders are at risk of becoming captive to a tolerance of criminal behavior”:

(Douglas) “These are people who will complete their criminal sentences and be released from the Corrections Department but they are not successfully through their sexual assault offender treatment, and for that reason I believe need to be kept out of circulation and away from our kids, away from our streets and away from our neighborhoods.”

(Kinzel) Douglas also wants to expand the sex offenders’ registry to include all violent criminals and he thinks members of the public should be able to go on line to find out if anyone on the registry lives in their neighborhood:

(Douglas) “I understand the debate that has gone on in the Legislature about the collision of privacy and personal information versus the right of the public to know but I believe when an untreated sexual or violent predator is released into our communities that that trumps the other concerns and the public indeed has a right to know.”

(Kinzel) Democratic candidate Scudder Parker says he’s not convinced that a civil commitment plan will be an effective way to protect public safety.

(Parker) “I’m not quite sure what the governor has in mind as he proposes to do this again except that we know that this would be a very costly program but the question is why not wait and see if the work that’s been done really will be effective in protecting Vermonters more effectively.”

(Kinzel) Parker says he also wants to see evidence that expanding the sex offenders registry will have positive results.

(Parker) “As governor that’s the kind of question I would ask first before I said let’s expand the list. I’m not necessarily persuaded that that is a strategy that would work for all other kinds of crime.”

(Kinzel) Parker says he wants to work with all elements of the state’s law enforcement community to development effective policies to help reduce crime in the state.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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