MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A top Minnesota state lawmaker says violent sex offenders should go to prison, not treatment programs.
GOP Representative Tony Cornish is proposing tougher sentences: up to 60 years for aggravated sexual assault.
Minnesota confines 725 dangerous sex offenders for treatment at St. Peter and Moose Lake, but Cornish, the powerful Chair of the Minnesota House Public Safety Committee, says they cannot be treated, or cured.
“You just lock these guys up, and for long sentences,” he said.
In a Facebook post beginning “ATTENTION, parents of young children,” Cornish proposes phasing out the state’s sex offender program, and phasing in much tougher punishment.
“People are sick of these sex crimes happening,” Cornish told WCCO-TV. “And then you see when you do the criminal background checks that they were caught in 2000 and released in 2006. Caught in 2008 released in 2012. And then they commit a heinous crime.”
Cornish proposes a mandatory 60 year prison sentence for violent sexual assualts. Sex offender treatment begins after 40 years.
“I think people are demanding that something happen, other than the low sentences we are getting now,” he said. “And then they get out and they commit another crime.”
But legal experts say tougher prison sentences are not always the right answer.
“There’s tragedy, we react. A tragedy, we react. A tragedy, we react,” said Eric Janus, a professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul and a national expert on laws regarding criminal sex offenders.
Janus says reacting to the horrible details of the Wetterling case is understandable, but doesn’t fix the problem.
“Public policy developed in the emotional heat of a tragedy is not necessarily the best public policy,” he said.
Janus says cases like the Wetterling murder are very rare: “So vivid, we tend to think of this incident as typical. But it’s not. In fact, it’s extreme.”
Studies show sex offenders re-offend at a low 5 to 7 percent rate, but Cornish says it’s not low enough.
“We’re not talking about somebody who recidivizes by taking your tools — we’re talking about recidivism where they rape or molest your child, or take your life,” he said.
Cornish says the mandatory 60 year prison term would be triggered by the most violent sex crimes like murder; but also kidnapping, rape or molesting a child.