Prison officials are standing by Vermont's sex offender treatment despite one of its graduate's suspected involvement in the murder of a 12-year-old girl. Officials say the program comes with no guarantees, but they say it dramatically reduces the risk of re-offense. And the Vermont Corrections Department says its programs have become a model for other states because they are so successful.
"It makes us safer than not doing it. It doesn't guarantee total safety," says Vt. Corrections Commissioner Rob Hofmann.
Hofmann says studies show that sex offenders are less likely to re-offend if they complete the state's sex offender treatment program.
About 400 of Vermont's 2,000 convicts-- about 20 percent-- are doing time for a sex crime conviction. Most will complete sex offender treatment. The great majority of the graduates will not re-offend, unlike Michael Jacques.
He completed the treatment program and was called a model prisoner by the department and released from probation in 2006 after the department categorized him as a model prisoner.
Until 12-year-old niece Brooke Bennett was kidnapped and murdered last month-- and he's the prime suspect. The commissioner says the program should not be judged by this one failure.
"Does it succeed in all cases? And make all of these people who come to us impaired and violent and criminal and make them all model citizens? No, and I think that's unrealistic," says Hofmann.
The commissioner says there have been three major changes in the treatment since Jacques completed the program in 2000.
In the late 1990s the program was re-designed to match length and intensity of treatment to the severity of the offense.
Second, the department adopted what it calls state-of-the-science testing methods to better assess the risk of re-offense.
Third, convicted sex offenders are now subject to random lie detector testing to determine if they are engaging in high-risk behavior such as viewing pornography or hanging around kids.
"The program is effective at reducing the risk to re-offend and it is effective at helping to make our community safer. It is not a total assurance that some deviant will not relapse. That's just one of the terrible realities of the criminals that we deal with," says Hofmann.