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Middlesex DA: Sex offender supervision needs more funding

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan made the comments during a special commissionMetro file

(State House News Service) -- As a commission led by legislators weighs how to reduce recidivism among sex offenders in Massachusetts, Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan on Wednesday laid out how her office handles sex offenders as they are released from incarceration.

The special commission, co-chaired by Sen. William Brownsberger (D-Belmont) and Rep. Paul Brodeur (D-Melrose), is investigating best ways to assess and manage sex offenders' risk of re-offending.

"We always want to be doing this better but we know that anybody who reoffends, the cost to the person that becomes their victim and to their family is immeasurable, so the stakes are very high here," Ryan, a member of the commission, said after she and officials from her office provided an outline of their practices. Middlesex is the Bay State's largest county in population.

According to her office's presentation, the district attorney's office receives a notice from the Department of Correction and other public safety agencies six months before an inmate convicted of a sexual offense is due to be released. The office reviews materials, along with input from doctors, to determine if the inmate should be considered a likely sexually dangerous person, and if that's the case, the office files a petition in Superior Court.

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The inmate is entitled to a probable cause hearing before a Superior Court justice, and if probable cause is found, the inmate can be committed to a treatment center for a certain period for examination and diagnosis. The state can file a petition for a trial before a judge or jury to unanimously find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the person is sexually dangerous.

While the person is then committed to a treatment center "from one day to life," they can petition the courts once a year to be released, according to the presentation. Much of the process is based on the Sexually Dangerous Persons Act, which lawmakers last revised in 1999.

Raymond Knight, a member of the commission and a Brandeis University professor, said the system can lead to "false positives" and needs improvement through better data gathering.

"Is there a way to predict data better in the world of medicine? There certainly is because sometimes we are wrong," Ryan said, but added that the system already has "checks and balances."

Treatment of sex offenders has changed "radically" during his tenure as an expert, Knight said. "We're not investing the money in evaluating the efficacy of treatment as a tool for protecting the public," he said. "I find that very, very sad."

Laurie Myers, a victim advocate who attended the meeting, said unless the data is completely accurate, officials should always "err on the side of caution" when it comes to managing sex offenders.

"You'll go broke," Knight responded.

"It's very, very expensive and it ends up only identifying a very small number of people, and even at the end when you identify those small number of people, you're not always getting the worst people in that process," he added after the meeting.

Ryan said the state has not consistently funded supervision of sex offenders.

"One of the things that we've talked about is this is a system that in a list of priorities, with limited resources, until someone's been impacted, or until as we're speaking to the public safety of what we see, it isn't somebody's top agenda item for funding," Ryan said after the meeting. "But yet it's important, it's expensive to do it well, and having set up a system, which is a good system, we need to be consistent in funding that system."

Brownsberger, the commission co-chair, said one of the policy questions the panel will have to address is whether lifetime community parole should be reinstated.

The commission's next meeting is set for Feb. 25.

At the start of Wednesday's meeting, Brodeur, the other co-chair, said the commission, which has been meeting since last fall, is "somewhat in the early stages of this." A report is expected sometime in 2015.

 
 
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