When justice is questioned

Sentence seen as what sex offender needed, but jail time was an option

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The question of what is considered justice in a case like convicted sex offender Grant Taylor's is one that each person has a different answer to.

Law enforcement officials and some residents feel strongly that jail time would help those affected by the case move on and punish the criminal in accordance with the crime committed. Others feel justice is best served by protecting the victim, and possible future victims, by treating the sex offender.

Grant Taylor, 34, is a Craig resident who plead guilty to the Class 4 felony of sexual assault on a child. He was sentenced March 4 to 10 years to life on probation. He won't serve jail time for the crime he committed in Craig, but will spend time behind bars. He was sentenced earlier this year to 27 years in a federal prison for accepting child pornography through the mail.

The difference in standards is what angers some Craig residents.

Deputy District Attorney David Waite recommended Taylor be sentenced to Sexual Offender Intensive Supervision Probation (SOISP) program. It's a recommendation Waite feels best suits the case and is in accordance with the wishes of the victim's family.

Several officials that deal with sex offender issues, agree the recommendation was a viable one.

"Serving time doesn't really enhance victim safety. What I think is best is lifetime supervision and lifetime treatment, said Pat Tessmer, executive director for Advocates-Crisis Support Service (ACSS). "From what we've seen, there is no cure for sex offenders. There is such a high rate of recidivism ... The best you can hope for is maintenance."

Maintenance, or constant supervision and continual treatment to contain and help a sex offender while still getting some productive value out of them as citizens, is a major component of what 14th Judicial District Probation Supervisor Patrick Rooney referred to as "restorative justice."

Rooney agreed with Tessmer's assessment.

"Perhaps prison is not, in all cases, the most successful program."

According to Rooney, the SOISP program is extremely restrictive. Multiple entities monitor the offender, with those entities reporting to the probation officer. The probation officer also requires a daily phone call from the offender in some cases. There are a variety of triggers that could cause an offender to fail SOISP and have probation revoked. Failing the constant polygraph tests, being unresponsive to or uncooperative with treatment, or simply being in an area from with they are forbidden, any area near children, are some of the many ways the offender could have probation revoked and would be resentenced, this time to jail. In Taylor's case, failing the terms of his probation could land him in jail for anywhere from two years to life.

"The counselors and treatment centers (who handle SOISP cases) are audited yearly by the Sexual Offender Management Board," Rooney said. And the training for officers and others who handle the cases is very intensive. "Four out of the five people I have on ISP now wish they had chosen jail."

Dealing with Taylor is a special problem, calling for special answers.

"With sex offenders, they don't age out of their crimes like most groups. The long term risk is massive," said Gene McCallister of the Sexual Offender Management Board, which sets the standards for supervision and the polygraph examinations. "We need to look at lifetime risk because they can re-offend many, many years down the road.

McCallister believes the SOISP program is well-suited to oversee sexual offenders.

"The SOISP program can be very intensive, and can include a Global Positioning System (GPS) location device [on the offender]; the system can provide very high oversight," she said. "A lifetime sentence is a powerful sentence because it allows [the state] to keep our hands on [the offender] for their entire lives."

Because the risk is so high in Taylor's case, the supervision be that much more intensive. Taylor's risk assessment labeled him a sexual predator, which is the category of sex offender with the highest rate of re-offending. The SOISP program Taylor was sentenced to is the most intensive available.

"If [the offender] scores as a predator, that score is permanent," and reflects in the intensity of the supervision and the sensitivity of the triggers that could send the offender to jail, McCallister said.

Charles Feldman, Deputy District Attorney of Routt County, who on Monday sent a sex offender to jail for 21 years, explained his arguments concerning that case.

"On my case, I basically handled it like a second-time offender. [The offender, Charles Dennen] had continued violations of his probation after the Jefferson County conviction. He was grooming another 13-year old, he was failing the polygraphs; the counselors were concerned, and reported their concerns. He was failing SOISP," he said.

When it was his turn to prosecute the Dennen, Feldman argued for a lengthy sentence to insure he would be in jail for the rest of his life. Dennen is 55 years old, and the 21-year sentence was effectively a life sentence.

Dennen was not eligible for lifetime supervision, as Taylor is, since some of the assaults he committed occurred before November of 1998, when the law allowing lifetime supervision was enacted. Also, Feldman said, Dennen pleaded not guilty.

"When someone refuses to admit they have a problem, there is much more of a risk [for re-offending] than someone who goes into court and admits he's screwed up," Feldman said.

It was Waite's assertion that treatment was not an option if Taylor were to serve time. That argument was refuted by the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC). DOC officials contend their parole treatment program is as efficient as the probation departments' SOISP program. They say a sex offender could serve jail time and still received a high level of treatment and monitoring when released.

"We have the statutory authority to mandate ISP, along with GPS monitoring or electronic ankle bracelet systems, along with check-ins with their parole officer on a weekly basis. We also do home checks and work checks," said Alison Morgan, a Colorado Department of Corrections representative. "The Sex Offender ISP parole works in conjunction with certified sex offender treatment programs. Colorado spends $10 million a year for sex offender treatment. The parole department has 22 employees and therapists approved and monitored by the Sex Offender Management Board."

The Sex Offender Management Board is the same certification program the probation department uses.

"There is one sexually violent predator on parole in the Sixth Judicial District here in Colorado, and that parole department feels they are doing a very good job of supervising that offender," Morgan said."

The ISP treatment program offered by the parole department can also be for the remainder of the offender's life, Morgan said, and has the ability to be revoked, with the offender being sent to jail, Morgan said.

Waite was out of town this week and was unavailable for comment.

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