Governor signs sex offenders bill

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(Host) Friday afternoon Governor Jim Douglas signed Vermont’s new sex offender bill into law. The penalty provisions of the law will go into effect immediately.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The legislation was the subject of intense scrutiny at the Statehouse this winter in the weeks following Judge Edward Cashman’s original and very controversial sentencing of a convicted sex offender.

The bill increases penalties for most sex crimes and includes a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in jail for aggravated sexual assault. It increases the number of investigative units across the state and it expands the scope of the state’s sex offenders registry.

Sara Kenney is a spokesperson for the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. She thinks one of the most important parts of the bill is the effort to provide more comprehensive prevention programs throughout Vermont:

(Kinney) “It’s really looking at all the different levels of our society and how sexual violence is condoned and really allowed to continue happening in our communities, and thinking about how do we prevent perpetration of sexual violence from happening in the first place, and really making our culture a zero tolerance culture for sexual violence.”

(Kinzel) The legislation also includes the creation of a special sentencing commission. Windsor county state’s attorney Bobby Sand was a leading advocate for the commission:

(Sand) “I think it’s important because it will bring together criminal justice professionals who in a dispassionate way can look at issues that affect the criminal justice system and give input to the Legislature and the administration as it considers changes in the system.”

(Kinzel) Sand says the commission will also examine court records to help determine if beliefs about certain crime trends are accurate:

(Sand) “I think one of the principal missions of the commission will be to look at whether there really are sentencing disparities on a county by county basis. We deal so much with anecdotal information in Vermont. Having the commission and having a group specially charged with looking at that issue of disparate sentences will help answer whether that’s myth or reality.”

(Kinzel) The legislation also places people convicted of sex crimes under the supervision of the state for the rest of their lives and stipulates that these individuals can be put back into prison if they violate conditions of their release.

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

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