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Committee OKs tougher sex offender sentences

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Committee OKs tougher sex offender sentences
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

ST. PAUL -- An 8-year-old effort to keep sex offenders in jail longer began a new trek on Tuesday through the Minnesota Legislature.

The House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee unanimously approved a proposal that would force many of the worst offenders to spend 60 years in prison, followed by a decade of supervised release. Those "worst of the worst" sex offenders would serve twice the current sentences under the bill by Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder.

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"The public expects us to do something drastic with sex offenders," Cornish said.

A key to Cornish's bill is that after someone is found guilty of a serious sexual assault, he could be sent to a second trial to determine whether a jury determines that he is a "predatory sex offender." If that finding is made, the higher penalties kick in.

Cornish's measure is the latest attempt to get tough on sex offenders, which started shortly after the November 2003 kidnapping and murder of Dru Sjodin from a Grand Forks, N.D., mall.

Sjodin's body was found the next April near Crookston, Minn. Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. was charged, and eventually convicted in federal court and sentenced to death. He had been released from a Minnesota prison in May 2003 after serving time on a sex charge.

Since then, lawmakers and then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty lengthened sex offender sentences.

The bill by Cornish represents a change in tactics, with the second trial to impose higher penalties on those most likely to reoffend.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, authored a similar bill, but his measure has not received a committee hearing.

Under the Cornish bill, the state corrections commissioner could release a predatory sex offender early only if he can prove that he no longer poses a threat to public safety and can be reintegrated into society.

Cornish said that his bill would be less expensive than the current procedure, where many offenders are sent to state hospitals after completing their sentences, which costs three times as much as prison stays.

Rep. Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson, said he does not think any prisoner would get enough treatment to be released early.

Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, said he is fine with putting more offenders in prison, but said he is concerned that the Corrections Department may not be able to find enough therapists willing to work with prisoners.

"We're not getting enough treatment (for sex offenders) because we can't get enough people," said Gauthier, himself a therapist,

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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Pioneer staff reports
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