Friday, January 06, 2006

Vermont child rapist fallout comes fast.

Nation: As politicians scramble to make sure this does not happen again.

MONTPELIER, Vt. --A recent court decision that sent an admitted sex offender to prison for just 60 days has prompted a cry at the Statehouse for tougher sentences and more effective treatment. Republicans held a news conference Friday to introduce a bill that would require judges to impose a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison for aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault and second and subsequent offenses for lewd and lascivious conduct with a child younger than 12. Democrats responded by saying such a proposal already was part of their more comprehensive plans for getting tough on crime, a package that's the subject of hearings this week and next in the House. "Republicans are committed to providing a legislative correction to make sure this never happens again," said House GOP leader David Sunderland. Although a news conference on the issue was called by the Republicans, Senate Judiciary Committee Richard Sears, a Democrat from Bennington, stood alongside and joined. "I'm here because public safety is not a partisan issue," Sears said. "Both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees are committed to dealing with this issue." ....The Burlington Free Press and WCAX-TV reported that prosecutors wanted an eight-year sentence and the state Corrections Department wanted three years. But the judge also was told that Hulett would not get any counseling for the crime until he was released because he was deemed unlikely to offend again. So, Cashman imposed a sentence of three years to life, suspending all but 60 days. That means Hulett could spend his life in prison, but is certain only to serve the two months. That angered the victim's family and also enraged politicians. Gov. James Douglas issued a statement condemning Cashman and his rationale for the sentence. "When a grown man rapes a small child, justice is only served when the criminal is behind bars -- for a long time -- paying for his inexcusable crime," Douglas said in a statement released by his office. A lot of anger was directed at Cashman and also at the Corrections Department for not providing treatment to Hulett while he was serving the prison term. "I have a problem with (Cashman's) sentence, but I also have a problem the Department of Corrections," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman William Lippert, D-Hinesburg. ....Some of the Republicans at the news conference said something needed to be done or Vermont would become a magnet for sexual offenders. "We don't want to be known as tough on business and soft on pedophiles," said Sen. George Coppenrath, R-Caledonia.
So why was he classified as low risk?
A judge's ruling for a sex offender not only raises concerns about sentencing limits, but about Vermont's sex offender therapy program. At issue is a prison policy that delays therapy for some sex offenders until they are back on the streets. Under law, the primary mission of Vermont's prison system is to rehabilitate criminals to rejoin society. The programs include corrective-therapy for sex offenders. Problem is, some sex offenders must first be released to get into the program. "I'm not surprised that the community is upset about this. Sex offenses are very serious," said Georgia Cumming, Executive Director of Vermont's Sex Offender Treatment Program. Cumming says she understands why the public was upset when child-rapist Mark Hulett received a 60-day sentence for repeatedly raping a little girl. Judge Edward Cashman has come under fire for the sentence. The judge says getting Hulett out of prison quickly is the only way to get Hulett into sex offender treatment program quickly because Hulett is classified as a low-risk offender, so he ineligible for in-prison treatment. "All of the literature I've read said if you're interested in changing behavior, you don't have to do it inside. If anything, you have a better chance of success with an outside program," said Cashman when he handed out the 60-day sentence to Hulett on Wednesday. ....Cumming says many factors are taken into consideration to determine the classifications. "We look at does a person have a prior sexual offense? Does the offender have a prior non-sexual record? Has that offender offended against a stranger. So, the relationship of the offender to the victim tells you something about the type of risk they pose," Cumming explained. As for Hulett, despite the severity of his crime, because he molested a neighbor's child, he qualifies as low-risk under the rating system. "Well, offenders who have offended against a family member or another relative or neighbor who has not committed a prior offense typically score low on these risk assessment instruments, particularly if they have not, do not have any prior criminal history," Cumming added. Governor Douglas asked his staff to reexamine sex offender classification policies. In the meantime, the Chittenden County prosecutor and Vermont's Attorney General say they may ask Judge Cashman to reconsider the sentence of Mark Hulett, and the possibility of appealing the sentence to the Supreme Court.

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