Senate leaders to consider effectiveness of sex offender treatment programs

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(Host) Senate Democratic leaders have unveiled plans to hold 6 public hearings in the coming months to investigate several different aspects of the Brooke Bennett murder case.

Senate President Peter Shumlin says one focus of the hearings will be to consider the effectiveness of the state’s sex offender treatment program in reducing the rate of recidivism.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) While incumbent Republican Lt. Governor Brian Dubie wants Governor Jim Douglas to convene a special session of the Legislature to consider a package of criminal justice reforms, the Democrats are taking a different approach.

At a Brattleboro press conference, Senate president Peter Shumlin announced plans to have the Senate Judiciary committee hold 6 public hearings over the next 3 months to investigate the specifics of the Bennett case, to review existing laws and to consider possible legal reforms:

(Shumlin) "That’s the most important question what went wrong and why and second if current law that we passed in the last 4 years had been in place when Mr. Jacques committed his crime what would have been different and third what can we do to continue to strengthen and protect Vermont’s children by passing further legislation."

The individual charged with kidnapping Brooke Bennett, her uncle Michael Jacques, is a convicted sex offender who completed the state’s treatment program.  A state probationary officer described Jacques as "a success story" for the program.

Shumlin wants the Senate Judiciary committee to review the state’s treatment program to determine if it reduces re-offending rates.

Corrections commissioner Rob Hoffman says the answer is yes.  Based on a ten year study, he says convicted sex offenders who complete the program have one of the lowest recidivism rates of inmates in the entire Vermont jail system – the rate is roughly 5%.

Convicted offenders who refuse treatment are 6 times more likely to re-offend and the rate for the general prison population is just over

(Hoffman) "For instance someone who has a substance abuse problem and may be either dealing drugs or burglary they would have a much higher re-offense rate so the re-offense rate tends to be higher for the non violent offenders it tends to be lower and among our lowest is for our sex offenders unfortunately as this tragic case illustrates the number is not zero."

Hoffman says the state has just received a federal grant to give his Department additional tools to evaluate the risks that specific sex offenders pose to the public before they’re released from prison:

(Hoffman) "And combining what are known as dynamic risk factors about how someone is progressing through treatment as well as static risk factors their history the history of the crime working to combine those two factors to get an even better prediction of re-offense rate."

The $160,000 grant is part of the state’s appropriation through the federal Violence Against Women Act.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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