Pawlenty: Double the Sentences for Sex Offenders

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010 at 9:47 am

Saint Paul – Governor Tim Pawlenty today announced a proposal to more than double prison time for sex offenders and a new comprehensive internet education program to help protect children from online predators.

Under the Governor’s proposal, an offender convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct would receive a 25-year sentence, more than doubling the current presumptive sentence.

“Offenders who commit these heinous crimes should be locked up for an even longer period of time,” Governor Pawlenty said. “While I have led efforts to increase sentencing in the past, we can do even more to protect our citizens from dangerous sexual predators. We need to change the law so we can keep these predators off our streets.”

In 2005, Governor Pawlenty led efforts to significantly enhance sentencing for criminal sexual conduct offenses.  Under the law, someone who commits a particularly egregious first offense or is a repeat sex offender could be sentenced to life in prison or until they could prove they were worthy of release. Offenders would have had to commit their first offense with two other statutorily described “heinous elements” before they could be sentenced for life.

However, under current law offenders who are convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct without such “heinous elements” face a maximum sentence of 30 years.  Minnesota courts typically impose a presumptive sentence of 12 years. The Governor’s proposal will more than double the 12-year presumptive sentence to 25 years.

The Governor’s proposal would have no increased costs for the first five years.  In the FY 2016-17 biennium, the increased cost is estimated at $208,000.  However, the proposal would also save the state some money over the long-term, as offenders who would’ve been civilly committed in the more expensive Minnesota Sex Offender Program would be kept in prison longer than under current law.  Prison costs are currently $63 per day while civil commitment costs are $325 per day.

“Keeping these dangerous offenders in prison longer is a much better and more economical approach,” Governor Pawlenty said.

Minnesota Sex Offender Program bonding proposal

Governor Pawlenty is also calling on the legislature to include the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) facility in Moose Lake in the 2010 capital investment bill to accommodate rapid growth in the number of civilly committed sex offenders. The Governor has proposed $89 million for completion of Phase II of the MSOP facility which includes construction of an additional 400-bed secure residential facility, including space for required treatment and life-safety infrastructure.  If Minnesota courts continue to civilly commit sex offenders at current rates, current facilities will be full by the end of 2012.

“The need to keep sex offenders off of our streets is among our highest priorities,” Governor Pawlenty said.  “I am disappointed the DFL failed to include this important project in their bonding proposals.”

MSOP is a secure treatment program for civilly committed sex offenders.  The program currently houses 552 dangerous sex offenders who have served their prison sentences but have been deemed by the courts to be too dangerous to be released. These sex offenders can only be released by the courts once they have demonstrated they have reduced their risk to offend and can be managed through intensive supervision in the community.

NetSmartz internet safety education program

Governor Pawlenty also announced a comprehensive internet safety education program that will be made available to every school in the state at no charge.

NetSmartz, developed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), provides detailed information for students, teachers, parents and law enforcement about the dangers that children can face when they go online.

The program in Minnesota will be a partnership between the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the Minnesota Department of Education and the Minnesota Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.  NetSmartz kits are made available through a Department of Justice grant.

“While the Internet is a great tool that provides our children with many educational opportunities, it has also become a place where sexual predators prey on children,” Governor Pawlenty said. “Our children face dangers online which were inconceivable only a decade ago.  We need to do everything we can to ensure our children make responsible online decisions.”

Schools will be provided with training and instruction materials that teachers can use to help educate students about the dangers that exist online.  The NetSmartz materials are designed for different age groups, with presentations for children in grades K-2, grades 3-6, tweens and teens. NetSmartz includes online games and activities for each age group, and also provides information for parents who want to better understand the risk and educate their children about how to make the right choices while online.

U.S. Department of Education statistics show that more than 1 in 5 children use the Internet by the time they reach nursery school age.  That number jumps to 1 in 3 by kindergarten and 4 in 5 by high school.

Despite increased use of filtering, blocking and monitoring software, youth online exposure to

sexual material and sexual predators is on the rise.  According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in 2005 one-third of youth Internet users saw sexual material they didn’t want to see.  A 2007 survey found that 1 in 7 children received a sexual solicitation while online.

Research conducted by the University of New Hampshire suggests that NetSmartz is effective in teaching children about safe Internet usage. The National Law Center supports NetSmartz and other Internet safety websites and encourages all parents and teachers to use these tools to educate children about the hazards of the Internet.

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