Corrections Department says it will comply with local sex offender restrictions

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(Host) It could get complicated for the Department of Corrections as communities set restrictions on where released sex offenders can live.

Probation and parole officials have begun to plan how to comply with new ordinances. In Barre, for example, sections of the city have been put off limits to anyone convicted of a sex crime.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports.

(Sneyd) Almost everyone convicted of a crime in Vermont will be released from prison.

The Department of Corrections keeps tabs on most of them through probation or parole.

Commissioner Rob Hofmann says the state tries to send people as close to home as possible after they’ve served their time.

(Hofmann) “Our goal is to return people to their community. Sometimes that’s complicated by victims’ issues. Often, we will need to relocate someone to another community, likely another county, because we need to have an adequate distance from the victim of a violent crime, out of deference to the victim. So that complicates things.”

(Sneyd) What’s complicating things now is the attention being paid to released sex offenders.

Publicity about the kidnapping and death of Brooke Bennett, a 12-year-old Braintree girl, has generated debate about how to keep a closer eye on sex criminals.

The girl’s uncle – a convicted sex offender – has been charged with her abduction.

Barre adopted an ordinance that will prohibit sex offenders from living within one-thousand feet of schools, public parks or playgrounds.

It’s Hofmann’s staff at the Corrections Department that will have to abide by the ordinance.

(Hofmann) “We will comply with local ordinances in the same way that we comply with Vermont law and federal law. But without a doubt the more communities that take steps like this, it will complicate the reentry of offenders. And these people are Vermonters. They came from our communities and they need to be relocated back to our communities. How we go about doing that, if there are wide swaths of exclusion zones, that will be complicated and we will deal with that as best we can.”

(Sneyd) Advocates for victims of sexual violence worry that the new exclusion zones will be counterproductive.

The Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence has reams of studies that criticize living restrictions.

Karen Tronsgard-Scott is executive director of the network.

(TronsgardScott) “Residency restrictions actually move sex offenders further to the fringes of society and, especially in the case of child sexual offenders, that movement to the fringe makes it more likely, according to the studies, that sex offenders will re-offend.”

(Sneyd) Tronsgard-Scott says she shares the public’s desire to do something in the wake of Brooke Bennett’s murder.

And victims advocates say energy would be better directed at preventing sexual abuse in the first place.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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