Posted by Charity on August 5th, 2008

One of Vermont’s biggest stories this year was the death of Brooke Bennett and the revelation that the alleged perpetrator of this heinous crime, Michael Jacques, was the poster boy for the success of Vermont’s sex offender treatment program.

The Burlington Free Press ran a front page story entitled Jacques: ‘Success story’ or ‘threat’? Seven Days ran the story, Bennett Case Raises Questions About Vermont’s Sex-Offender Treatment Program. The treatment of sex offenders has become an issue of discussion in this year’s gubernatorial race. It is an issue that will be discussed for months to come.

In the Seven Days article, Tom Powell, a forensic psychologist who, for 18 years, was the clinical director for the Department of Corrections, cautions us against making policy changes based on “a single bad event, by a single alleged actor whose conduct was reprehensible and deadly,” calling it “a crude response.”

Crude is a gentler response than the one I had to the department of corrections’ decision to reduce by seven years the probation of a man who repeatedly raped a woman, just because he completed their pet program.

There are really two issues in question with this situation. One is the sex offender treatment program itself. The other is how we sentence sex offenders.

It is easy to lump the two together, but as Robert McGrath, the clinical director of the Vermont Treatment Program for Sexual Abusers (VTPSA), said in the Seven Days article,

“Virtually everyone who is incarcerated for sex offenses in Vermont and the U.S. will eventually get out of prison,” McGrath said. “The question is, what do we do to reduce the risk of re-offending? Treatment is not a panacea, but it can have an impact on reducing risk and making our communities safer.”

Given the veracity of that statement, it seems that a treatment program that is sometimes successful is better than no treatment at all.

That brings us to the obvious question, though, why must these guys always get out of prison? More importantly, should completion of the VTPSA warrant early release?

The Free Press article reveals that even as Michael Jacques was held up as a model of success, he was, at that very time, engaged in sexual acts with a minor.

In other words, he was working the system. He fooled them. He gleaned from the program all of the right things to say to fool everyone in his life – not only the officials in the system, but everyone who knew him.

(Well, not everyone. There was a probation officer who recognized his manipulative and deceitful behavior and his risk to re-offend.)

Granted, there are people who go on to not re-offend, but the real question is: Is it worth the risk?

In a word, no.

People who commit acts of sexual violence should not receive reductions on their sentences for completion of the treatment program. Treatment should be a mandatory requirement if they ever want to see the outside of a prison cell. Yet, they should remain on probation for life. Society has a compelling interest in knowing the whereabouts and activities of someone who poses such a danger.

Too harsh?

So was kidnapping and repeatedly raping a high school senior at knife point. So was sexually molesting a younger female relative. So was violently raping a girl in Arizona. So was kidnapping and killing a 12-year-old little girl.

The fact is sexual violence is a devastating crime. The impact it has on the victims lasts a lifetime. In some cases, it completely destroys the life of the victim. Even when there is healing, the scars remain.

Let us not forget that reality when we are deciding how to best help the person who committed this, the darkest of evils, get his life back.

There are few legitimate rolls of government, at least in my view, but law enforcement is definitely one of them. Somewhere along the line, to protect and serve the public became to rehabilitate and empower the criminals.

I think it is time for a change.