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The cost of incarcerating Utah's burgeoning sex-offender population is "exorbitant." And minimum mandatory sentences may not be the best way to keep society safe, according to members of a task force looking at sex offender treatment options.

A better solution would be to "try and get the best treatment possible, then get them out as soon as we can and make sure they are not a danger to society," said Sen. Haven, Barlow, R-Layton, chairman of the newly convened Sex Offender Treatment Task Force, which met Tuesday.About one-fourth of the prison population - 731 inmates - were convicted of a sexual offense, while another 1,137 convicted sex offenders are on probation and parole, according to October 1993 data provided by the Department of Corrections. The average annual cost to keep a sex offender in prison is $20,000.

With the state's minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years (five with mitigating circumstances and 15 with aggravating ones) for certain sex offenses, it would cost the state $50 million to keep 250 offenders in prison, said Sen. Robert F. Montgomery, R-North Ogden.

And many of them would not get adequate treatment before they are released back into the community.

Like alcoholism, there is no cure, but treatment can be very effective to "put them in recovery," said Kathy Ockey of the Department of Corrections.

The minimum sentence is "wrong," said task force member Duayne Johnson, who represents the public. Instead, he suggested that offenders be given a 60-90 day prison sentence that is "so mean they'd wish they'd never seen the place." Then they should be put into treatment and intensive after-care.

Clearly, offenders who receive treatment are more successful than those who do not, according to Jesse Gallegos of the Department of Corrections. With minimum sentences, the department has chosen to focus limited treatment resources on people who are close to their parole dates. Treating someone early in the sentence "is of no use."

Some of the people who receive treatment "ought to be acclimated back into the community within a year," he said.

Seventy percent of sex offenders should be incarcerated for up to four months, Ockey said, adding that in her opinion "they should be made to jump through every treatment hoop there is. Then if they re-offend, they ought to be locked up for the rest of their natural lives."

The prisons don't have the resources to treat all the sex offenders, said Stan Richards, a psychologist who is a consultant to the task force. Others are in treatment for five years, which "doesn't help."

Focus should be on aftercare, said Richards. If offenders could go into prison for a short period of time, where they would be assured a horrible time, then treated and gradually eased back into the community with long-term mandatory aftercare, offenders would be less likely to commit new crimes and it would be much less expensive than warehousing the offenders.

Panelists and Corrections officials also discussed the need for changes in the law so that offenders who disclosed the full extent of their sexual crimes during therapy would not have to fear additional prosecution.

Therapists believe that complete disclosure is essential to treatment, Ockey said. But it poses a dilemma for therapists, who if they learn of other victims must report them to the prosecution, even though the crimes were committed before the conviction was handed down.

"Anything that will compromise community safety will be reported by therapists to Corrections," said Ockey. Unfortunately, people who have been convicted are unlikely to disclose the extent of their crimes as an essential part of their therapy if it could mean a new trial and an additional sentence.

A recent effort to pass such a law indemnifying disclosure was strongly opposed by the Statewide Association of Prosecutors," said Sen. Delpha Baird, R-Holladay, who attended the meeting.

One man has filed a lawsuit because as part of his treatment he gave his therapist a list of his victims and asked that they be given help. Instead, he received an additional 15 years on his sentence and nothing was done for the victims, said Johnson.

For the next few months, task force members will study the effectiveness of current treatment practices then make recommendations on legislation to the Legislature when it convenes in January.