Douglas Proposes Treatment at State Hospital for Sex Offenders

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says convicted sex offenders should be forced into treatment after their jail term ends if the offender is still a risk to society. A victims’ rights group praised the plan but the Vermont chapter of the ACLU has strong concerns about it.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Douglas argues that the measure is needed to offer another level of safety and protection to the public. Here’s how it would work:

When a convicted sex offender is within 60 days of their release from prison, a special panel will review the case and determine if the person still poses a serious risk to society based on the individual’s mental state. The panel will also be asked to determine if the individual should be identified as a violent sexual predator. If the review process concludes that the person remains a threat to public safety, the state would be able to forcibly commit the individual to the Vermont State Hospital for an indefinite period of time.

Douglas thinks the measure is needed.

(Douglas) “Vermont must take another important and necessary step by ensuring that the most dangerous and violent sex offenders are evaluated before they’re released and in fact not released into our communities until and unless there’s been a determination that the offender does not pose a danger to the public. That’s exactly what a civil commitment statute would do.”

(Kinzel) Jennifer Poeblmann is the director of the Center for Crime Victim’s Services. She says her organization thinks the law is needed to help prevent sexual predators from committing another crime in the future.

(Pullman) “It will also provide means of preventing further victimization and most importantly perhaps provide an incentive for those offenders who pose a serious danger to actually undergo much needed treatment.”

(Kinzel) The proposal did raise a lot of concerns with the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. The legislation is based on a similar plan enacted in Kansas. ACLU director Allen Gilbert says the state of Kansas has committed 111 people at a projected annual cost of almost $9 million a year.

Gilbert says the plan is unfair to individuals who have completed their jail sentence and face further confinement by the state.

(Gilbert) “Maybe this makes good politics but I don’t think it makes good public policy. I’m really bothered when the governor says – and I’m quoting him from his press conference – ‘This isn’t a further penalty.’ I cannot for the life of me see how somebody who’s involuntarily committed to an institution is not being further penalized, especially when he or she has already served a prison sentence.”

(Kinzel) Burlington Representative Kurt Wright says he’ll introduce the legislation in January if he’s re-elected to the General Assembly.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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