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Doubling sex offender sentences

Published (3/11/2010)
By Mike Cook
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Carly Skarsten was sexually assaulted by a neighbor when she was between 5 and 7 years old.

Before Carly turned 10, the perpetrator was out of prison.

He was convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct; a plea bargain got him a four-year sentence, but he was out in two-and-a-half years for good behavior.

Sponsored by Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL-Brooklyn Center), HF3081 is the governor’s initiative to increase the presumptive sentence for those convicted of first-degree sex crimes to 25 years.

Approved March 4 by the House Public Safety Policy and Oversight Committee, it was sent to the House Finance Committee with a recommended re-referral to the House Public Safety Finance Division. A companion, SF2736, sponsored by Sen. Linda Scheid (DFL-Brooklyn Park), was tabled Feb. 23 by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Harry Kennedy, the state sex offender policy coordinator, said current law calls for a 12-year sentence, eight of which are served in a Corrections Department facility. The remaining four years are on supervised community release.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said the change would save the state money long-term. “Offenders who would’ve been civilly committed in the more expensive Minnesota Sex Offender Program would be kept in prison longer than under current law,” he said in a Feb. 9 press release. “Prison costs are currently $63 per day while civil commitment costs are $325 per day.”

As offenders reach the end of their imprisonment, the county attorney in the county of commitment can pursue civil commitment through a court if they feel the offender remains a sexually dangerous person.

Gerald Kaplan, a licensed psychologist with 35 years of experience assessing and treating criminal sex offenders, said there might be a better way to deal with such offenders.

He recommends that sentenced offenders could be released once they’ve served their guideline sentence, if they are deemed safe for society by something similar to a parole board.

Rep. Michael Paymar (DFL-St. Paul) has no problem with longer sentences, but agrees other options need to be looked at than expensive civil commitment.

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