Sorrell says funding special investigative units should be top priority

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(Host) Attorney General Bill Sorrell is calling for the immediate, full funding of special sex offender investigative units throughout the state.

Sorrell says it’s the single most important short term step the state can take to make the state safe from sexual predators.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Sorrell says the creation of these units is so important that the budget of the Vermont State Police should be reallocated immediately to help establish these units statewide. Currently they’re fully operational only in Chittenden and Franklin counties.

The funding of these units is part of a five-point comprehensive plan backed by Sorrell and every state’s attorney in Vermont.

That plan also calls for DNA testing of anyone charged with a felony and allowing a defendant’s prior conviction for a sex crime to be admissible in a new trial.

Earlier this week, Governor Jim Douglas said Sorrell’s ideas have been around for several years and Douglas says he supports them. But the governor doesn’t see the prosecutors’ package as a top priority.

(Douglas) “That may be the most important thing to the state’s attorneys, but I can tell you what’s most important to the people of Vermont. It’s having a Jessica’s Law. It’s having sex offender registries that are meaningful. And it’s locking up these predators so they’re not on the streets of our state through the civil confinement initiative that I’ve proposed. That’s what we need to do. Those are the top priorities."

(Kinzel) Speaking on VPR’s Vermont Edition, Sorrell defended his group’s package and said it would be far more effective in cracking down on sex offenders than Douglas’s proposals.

(Sorrell) “The reality is – and we’re the ones who do this day in and day out, with all due respect to the governor and our putting victims first proposal – those are our priorities. Those are the tools that are going to allow us to do our jobs better, to have stronger cases and to obtain longer sentences. Because we have gotten the convictions and we don’t have to deal from a position of weakness."

(Kinzel) Under Douglas’s civil commitment law, the state would be able to keep a convicted sex offender in jail beyond their sentence, if the state can prove that the person still poses a threat to society.

Sorrell says this plan isn’t a wise use of limited financial resources.

(Sorrell) “I’m on record as saying we got to take a look at it for a very few offenders. But this is not the sort of solution to the problem of sex crimes in this state that fully funding comprehensive sex crimes investigation units would bring about."

(Kinzel) The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a series of public hearings on these issues. The committee hopes to release a preliminary report by the middle of next month.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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