The release of a high-risk sex offender from prison last week is again raising questions about state sex offender laws.
Inmate Richard Laws was set free because he maxed out his sentence, even though he refused treatment in prison. There are statutes that let the state keep prisoners like that behind bars, but they were passed after Laws was sentenced.
So is there appetite in Montpelier for even stricter laws on sex offenders?
Democratic State Sen. Dick Sears, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, joined VPR to help answer this question and talk about the current sex offender laws in the state.
Sears says there are two sex offender laws that lawmakers have considered this session. The first is a change to an existing law, making it clear that a sex offender must report their plans and activities to the registry before they get out of jail. That has been signed into law by Gov. Peter Shumlin. “There was some question over whether or not sex offenders had to report within 36 hours of leaving prison,” says Sears.
The other law being discussed in the Senate is related to the accuracy of the Internet sex offender registry. “Two audits by two different auditors both show tremendous problems with the sex offender registry in terms of accuracy,” says Sears. “So we’re hopeful that these changes will improve the accuracy of the registry.”
Sears says that rehabilitation is key, but offenders don’t always choose that path. “I certainly support every effort to rehabilitate offenders, but if the offender refuses treatment [like Laws did] -- evidently claiming he wasn’t guilty of the crime he was convicted of -- once you refuse treatment you are labeled as a high risk sex offender,” says Sears.
Sen. Sears says that those who are non-compliant with the sex offender registry are more likely to re-offend than those who are compliant. “That’s why we’ve put several additional requirements on those who are labeled high risk,” he says.