Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Sex offender panel offers proposal

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - A state task force created to scrutinize sex offender laws will ask legislators to keep predators in prison longer - possibly with the state's first mandatory life sentence - and watch them more closely after their release.

0617sexoffender1.jpg

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - A state task force created to scrutinize sex offender laws will ask legislators to keep predators in prison longer - possibly with the state's first mandatory life sentence - and watch them more closely after their release.

The proposals came Wednesday in the last of six meetings conducted the committee, which Gov. John Hoeven formed last winter after 22-year-old Dru Sjodin went missing from a shopping mall here. The task force, which included attorneys, police chiefs, prison officials and legislators, met in five cities before closing its work at the University of North Dakota, the school Sjodin was enrolled at when federal prosecutors believe a convicted sex offender kidnapped and murdered her.

Grand Forks Police Chief John Packett, a member of the task force, was pleased with what the group accomplished.

"It's one of those rare occasions where it's given us more answers," he said. "It truly does close the gap."

The "gap" was what Hoeven called the area where offenders land when they're not in prison, living under supervised probation or indefinitely held at the state hospital under civil commitment.

ADVERTISEMENT

The most original proposal from the task force is a less restrictive commitment option for offenders who are considered dangerous but not so dangerous they must be locked away from the public the rest of their lives.

This alternative placement, coined community commitment, includes such safeguards as GPS tracking, safety zones where offenders can't live and lie detector tests twice a year.

Offenders who violate the conditions can be charged with a felony and sent back to prison.

Currently, 19 offenders are locked up indefinitely at the state hospital under civil commitments. Each costs taxpayers about $98,000 a year. A community commitment would cost about $12,000 a year, according to Hoeven's office. It costs about $22,000 a year to incarcerate someone, said Warren Emmer of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Overall, task force members appeared in general consensus with the recommendations Hoeven unveiled Wednesday. The provision that drew the most dissent from members was a mandatory life sentence without parole for anyone convicted of a rape that resulted in death.

Historically, North Dakota's Legislature has resisted the trend of mandatory sentences seen elsewhere in the country, said Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo.

Cass County State's Attorney Birch Burdick said he understands why some in the public would favor mandatory sentences after the Sjodin case. Increasing the severity of possible penalties makes sense, he said, but forcing the judge's hand on a case that might not deserve a life sentence is a problem.

Hoeven said he supports the measure, as did Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who was not on the task force but had a representative there.

ADVERTISEMENT

Fargo attorney Adam Hamm, a former prosecutor, said he also favors the measure and said it might prompt the Legislature to include other crimes for mandatory life sentences, such as the murder of police officers and children.

Northwest District Judge Douglas Mattson, the only judge on the task force, said it was "quite apparent" the group was not unanimous on the matter.

"If a case warrants it, I don't know why a sentence like that wouldn't be imposed," he said.

A final report from the task force will include whatever reservations the two dozen members have about the recommendations. That will accompany draft legislation for an interim committee to consider before the next session begins.

Public comment was welcome at Wednesday's meeting, but only a few citizens attended the event. One man warned against focusing on the "crime of the hour" and treating sex offenders differently than other violent criminals.

Sjodin's name only came up once. A woman who left early told task force members to ask themselves how their proposed legislation would have helped the college student.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Forster at (701) 241-5538

What To Read Next
Get Local

ADVERTISEMENT