The Justice Files: Freedom for most sex offenders short lived

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – A sex offender said all the right things at his parole hearing but is he ready to be released from prison?

That’s the dilemma facing the Utah Board of Pardons. When are sex offenders ready to be released from prison? A snapshot between a sex offender and the board’s hearing officer occurred last week at the state prison.

“I had most of those pictures for 15 years before I was ever arrested,” said the inmate whose name isn’t being released.  

He’s eligible for parole after serving several years for being in possession of child pornography.  At this hearing the hearing officer wanted to know why he was interested in child pornography.

“And so I used the internet in lieu of dating and when you start something, it just spirals down,” he said.

The Utah Department of Corrections did not provide ABC4 data regarding the population of sex offenders in Utah prison.  The most recent data from 2018 showed showed more than 2,500 sex offenders are in prison. They made up 35 percent of the total population.

“If I am attracted to these younger men I have to do everything … I can be with somebody but age appropriate,” another inmate told the hearing officer.

Hearing officers with the Board of Pardons have criteria that a sex offender must follow before being paroled.

At a legislative hearing during the 2020 session Bev Uipi, deputy director with the board outlined the criteria for sex offenders to be considered for parole.  She said sex offenders need to go through sex offender treatment,  have stable housing, a release plan and be placed on the Utah sex offender registry.

But even after an inmate is released from prison, there’s a good chance more than half won’t make it. A 2014 PEW study showed 43 percent of Utah’s sex offenders return to prison.

A former prosecutor and now a defense attorney says some of his clients just aren’t ready for release even after following the criteria needed for parole.

“Once they are ready for parole that may mean the punishment is done but it doesn’t mean that it’s safe to allow them to go back into public,” said Kent Morgan, a former prosecutor and now a defense attorney who has represented some inmates.

He said sex offenders have a “very severe” anti-social personality and must receive psychiatric and psychological treatment after they’re released from prison.

“If they don’t have extreme supervision the sex offender mentality causes him to get in trouble again,” Morgan said.

In 2017, a state audit was critical of the Corrections’ sex offender treatment program.  Poor management, the lack of oversight and out-dated methods used to treat offenders were some of the findings.  Reportedly changes have been made as a result of the audit.
Attempts to question those in charge of sex offender programs at the Utah Department of Corrections were declined by the agency’s media liaison.

“We actually just brought on Anndrea (sic) Parrish, our new programming director, and we’d like to give her a moment to adjust to the position,” wrote Kaitlin Felsted, public information officer for the agency.. “If you can send me any specific questions you might have, then I’d be happy to look into them, but we’d decline the offer for an on-camera interview at this time.”

Those questions were submitted but no response was given at the time of this story.

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