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Thursday, February 13, 2020

Colorado bill would close 'loophole' allowing sex offenders to skip treatment

Posted By on Thu, Feb 13, 2020 at 11:01 AM

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Currently, a so-called "loophole" in state law allows certain high-level sex offenders to enter community corrections before participating in behavioral treatment.

Colorado lawmakers aim to close that loophole with Senate Bill 85, which was approved by the state Senate (32 aye votes, 0 no votes, 3 excused) on Feb. 13 and heads to the House for consideration.

The legislation would make certain requirements for being released into community corrections the same as those for being released on parole.

Thus, an offender would have to have "successfully progressed in treatment" and be considered neither a threat to the community, nor likely to commit another crime, before they're sent to community corrections. The bill also requires the executive director of the state's Sex Offender Management Board to review the relevant criteria and give final approval before releasing someone into community corrections.

Community corrections, an alternative to incarceration in prison, combines residential supervision with special privileges. Offenders in community corrections programs may be employed and required to attend classes.

The loophole in the law applies to those who've committed so-called "indeterminate" sex crimes, which include: felony sexual assault, including drug- and alcohol-facilitated sexual assault; felony unlawful sexual contact by force; sexual assault on a client by a psychotherapist or sexual misconduct by a police officer; incest and aggravated incest; sexual assault on a child, including sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust; enticement of a child; and felony internet luring or internet exploitation of a child.

While those with "determinate" sentences have a maximum number of years in prison, those with "indeterminate" do not. Instead, they must remain incarcerated or supervised until they meet certain requirements.

More than three-quarters of indeterminate sex crimes are crimes against a child, according to a fact sheet (see below) in support of the bill released by the Colorado District Attorneys' Council.

But while these individuals must have progressed in behavioral treatment in order to be released on parole, they don't currently have to meet the same requirements before being released into community corrections, where offenders reside in a supervised facility but may be allowed to leave for work or when they're granted privileges.

"We tell victims of these crimes that the indeterminate sentence will be at least four years, and otherwise lifetime supervision and indeterminate, but in reality, these individuals may be released into the community in 16 months," bill sponsor Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, testified at a Feb. 10 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Over the past 20 years or so — since the Sex Offender Lifetime Supervision Act was passed — close to 150 sex offenders who received indeterminate sentences have transitioned into community corrections through the loophole, testified Amanda Gall, sexual assault resource prosecutor at the Colorado District Attorneys' Council.

Among those, Gall said, "there are folks ... who have gone on to commit new felony sex offenses."

"Allowing high-level sex offenders to return to a community setting without treatment is dangerous and unacceptable," bill sponsor Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, testified to the Judiciary Committee.

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