By Gilman Halsted
A legislative council committee is considering changes to the state's sex predator law. The committee heard testimony from prosecutors and defense attorneys at a hearing in Madison Wednesday.
The committee is trying to tweak the law, while still protecting both public safety and the rights of an offender to be released someday. Milwaukee County prosecutor Holly Bunch told the committee there is a problem with the new risk assessment tool used. She says it is making it much easier for people who have been committed as predators under Chapter 980 to be released without supervision, even if they refuse to accept treatment while they are confined. "This has been most disturbing to me in cases where a person has been a treatment refuser, has sat there doing nothing, when the whole point of Chapter 980 is treatment, and then somehow gets rewarded for a change in the science. My perspective is that leopards just don't generally change their spots."
A defense attorney who represents people committed under the sex predator law disagrees. Vincent Rust works in the La Crosse public defender’s office. He said, "What she's [Bunch’s] saying is that the risk continues over a life span. Well, I think in a way it's just common sense. I don't think that we need to test it. If a guy commits a rape when he's 25, he's going to be less risky when he's 60, and that's what the empirical studies show."
Rust agrees with prosecutors that the law is not treating people fairly now. He says there needs to be more of an incentive for offenders to accept treatment both in the institution and in the community once they are released. The committee plans to propose changes to the law next year.