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Funds sought to treat sex offenders

Utah corrections officials fear for children's safety

After an eight-year gap where funding for sex offender treatment has not been increased, state corrections officials are asking the Legislature to more than double funding or face a sex offender crisis.

"We have a huge amount of offenders and a small amount of treatment dollars," Ron Sanchez, supervising psychologist with the Utah Department of Corrections, told the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee Wednesday.

State corrections officials said legislative allocations for sex offender treatment have typically been around $600,000 a year after the Legislature passed a bill to increase funding eight years ago. Sanchez said the state prison currently has an average of 1,500 inmates in need of sex offender treatment, an increase of 600 since the last funding increase.

Kathy Ockey, director of the Fremont Community Correctional Center, said ignoring the need for sex offender treatment could mean more children will be victimized by juvenile and adult sex offenders.

Ockey said without sex offender evaluations, courts have little choice but to send most offenders to prison, where they do not get the treatment needed. "In many cases judges have no choice," Ockey said.

Corrections officials said funding needs to be raised from $600,000 a year to $1.6 million to hire additional therapists and staff. She estimated that treatment for a sex offender can range between $250 to $400 a month, but Ockey reminded legislators that the alternative is having more children falling victim to sexual predators.

Already, Ockey and Sanchez said, there are offenders who are on a waiting list for treatment because of a shortage of therapists.

Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, Senate committee chairman, said most legislators understand the need for sex offender treatment, but he asked correction officials to submit a more detailed plan on how the additional $1 million would be spent.

Ockey said they would come back with more details, adding the treatment of sex offenders will help both the offenders and protect potential victims.

"I go to work each day knowing that I am helping to prevent more children from being hurt," Ockey said.


E-mail: gfattah@desnews.com