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Utah's top federal cops question whether child sex offender treatment works

Evidence-based policy responses should seek to address the core causes of drug use and abuse, among them mental heath and a person’s environment.
Utah's top federal law enforcers question the effectiveness of treatment programs for child sex offenders.
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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's top federal law enforcers question the effectiveness of treatment programs for child sex offenders.

"In our career and our experience, rehabilitation — although a laudable goal — is unrealistic in dealing with these types of offenders," U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber said Thursday. "Stiff justice is an appropriate remedy, first and foremost, for keeping people safe."

Huber and Eric Barnhart, FBI special-agent-in-charge in Salt Lake City, met with reporters Thursday to talk about current crime trends in the state. Huber called the proliferation of sex crimes involving children troubling.

Federal prosecutors filed 54 child exploitation cases involving possession, distribution and production of child pornography this year — 10 more than last year and 13 more than they year before.

"We cannot tolerate this. We should not tolerate any of this," Huber said.

Some of the images are so "unimaginable," including rape and sodomy of toddlers, that they can't be talked about on television, he said.

"This isn’t looking at a dirty magazine."

The offenders, Huber said, are the "worst of absolute worst," including an Ogden man who had 600 pictures on his computer and is now serving an 11-year prison term with 20 years of federal monitoring to follow. He had previous state convictions and is on the sex offender registry.

Barnhart, who is retiring in Friday after 22 years with the FBI, said he's skeptical about government and law enforcement sex offender treatment programs.

"There’s management, but in my mind first and foremost the goal has to be protecting innocence, and a second — very distant second — is rehabilitation because I have just not seen the data that backs it up," he said.

Barnhart and Huber say offenders are likely to commit the same crimes after being released from even lengthy prison terms and the best treatment efforts. Incarceration, they say, is the major tool they have to keep children safe.

"This is very different than a drug addict who falls off the wagon," Huber said.

Barnhart said offenders need intensive supervision and management after prison.

"The compassionate part of us always wants to say a second chance should be given, but my experience is these people will victimize again," Barnhart said. "I have not see any credible data, and I think that people who say that there is, it's putting their compassion and their hope ahead of these victims."

Child pornographers have a "certain level of cockiness" and are brazen about sharing images online," Huber said.

"It's supply and demand, and there's a great demand. I don't know what we do as a society to cure that problem, to lessen that problem, but it is a growing demand and it's ever present and our children are, unfortunately, the fodder and the currency in that world," he said.

Barnhart also challenged the idea that most child sex offenders, whether they be pornographers or rapists, were abused themselves. He called it an "excuse" that becomes accepted.

"Our investigations show in many, many, many instances that is just not the case," he said. "These people are the lowest of the low."