Sex offenders get a reprieve from the Colorado Legislature

Two weeks ago, after a nine-hour public hearing on House Bill 10-1364, industry experts thought they'd successfully stomped out an effort to remove the words "no known cure" when referring to sex offenders. Ninety percent of the people who work in the field agree that there's no cure for extreme sex offenders, says Jennifer Lester, spokeswoman for No Known Cure. "It has to be managed," she notes. "It's like AA -- the first step is to admit the problem."

But in a surprise, closed-door hearing yesterday, not only were those words excised from the bill, but legislators added a provision allowing sex offenders to choose between three treatment programs. "It's like saying you get to choose your probation officer and your punishment," protests Lester. "It's ridiculous."

And the way the change was made at the last second was ridiculous, too. Experts had met for months to discuss the proposal to reinstate the Colorado Sex Offender Management Board, which was established in 1992, talking about all the provisions and the language. And they thought they had an agreement with legislators, one that took expert testimony into account.

After all, "Colorado has long been on the forefront of sex-offender management laws. We are typically a state that's a deterrent for sex offenders," Lester notes. "By doing this, we are becoming appealing to sex offenders from other states."

The bill is now on its way to Governor Bill Ritter's desk. Its critics hope that Ritter, a former district attorney, will regard the measure as a major setback for dealing with sex offenders -- rather than a marketing tool that would make Colorado attractive to a new, if decidedly unattractive market -- and veto the bill. "But we have no idea how Ritter feels," Lester says.

It's pretty clear how the group No Known Cure feels. Here's the release Lester fired off after the unexpected legislative action.

Teaching Humane Existence is Concerned Amendment to House Bill 10-1364 Undermines Public Safety from Repeat Sex Offenders Last-minute change to bill timed to prevent public testimony

DENVER, Colo., May 11, 2010 - The controversy expands as House Bill 10-1364 moves to its final reading by the Senate. The Senate added an unexpected last-minute amendment that gives sex offenders the right to select which of at least three treatment programs they go to. The basic function of this bill is to reinstate the Colorado Sex Offender Management Board (SOMB), which oversees the state's treatment of sex offenders.

"The sex offender will clearly choose the program that holds him the least accountable," said Greig Veeder, executive director of Teaching Humane Existence and head of the community group calling itself the No Known Cure group. "This will dramatically alter the climate of sex offender management which is currently focused on public safety. Instead, it will become a climate undermining treatment providers' ability and inclination to require meaningful, lasting change in repeat adult sex offenders."

The growing and vocal No Known Cure group includes Greig Veeder, leading sex offender management professionals and concerned citizens speaking out during the legislative session about the importance of keeping the SOMB bill focused on public safety. Unfortunately, the No Known Cure group and other concerned parties could not testify against the amendment since it was added after the House and Senate Judiciary Committee hearings were closed to the public.

According to the Colorado State Court Administrators Officer, 60 percent of convicted adult sex offenders receive probation instead of going to prison. And according to the Colorado Department of Corrections, the average sex offender has sexually abused victims for 16 or more years prior to his conviction. The effectiveness of the sex offender's management and treatment is defined by how tightly his behavior is monitored while on probation and living in the community.

"It is absurd to give the sex offender a court order for treatment that he does not want to go to in the first place, and then ask him to decide how he wants to fulfill that court order," said Fred Tolson, managing partner of Sexual Offense Resource Services.

The No Known Cure group points out that as the bill heads to Governor Bill Ritter's desk, he has to approve it with this amendment, among others, that undermine the SOMB's ability to focus on public safety or veto it in its entirety. A veto means the SOMB will remain in operation for one more year, requiring new legislation to keep the board going beyond 2011.

Tess Henry, a concerned citizen and part of the No Known Cure group said, "Are we going to require treatment that demands the sex offender change, or are we going to have wishy-washy programs that create an illusion that something meaningful has taken place in treatment when it hasn't?"

Concerned citizens should contact Governor Bill Ritter at 303-866-2471 or by e-mail and ask him to veto house bill 10-1364.

To join the No Known Cure group, contact Greig Veeder at [email protected] or 303-916-2233. To view the group's report to the Colorado legislature, visit www.thewatchhouse.org.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun