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Lifetime probation doesn’t always last a lifetime. Some victims of sex crimes want their perpetrators to spend more time being closely monitored and receiving treatment before they can petition for release from lifetime probation.
A measure backed by legislative Republicans would require sex offenders placed on lifetime probation to complete either 10 or 20 years of probation, depending on the seriousness of the felony they were convicted for, before they could petition a judge for release.
Currently, some sex offenders on lifetime probation can petition for release after as little as three years, while the more serious offenders must wait seven years.
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Republican Sen. Janae Shamp, of Surprise, said she introduced Senate Bill 1284 after a constituent brought this issue to her attention.
Kayleigh Kozak told the House Judiciary Committee on March 22 that she was 14 when she reported the man who was abusing her.
On her behalf, her parents agreed to a plea deal that would put her abuser in jail for six months and give him two terms of lifetime probation, instead of a possible 25 years in prison.
But after he’d been on probation for eight years, her abuser began petitioning a judge for release, Kozak said.
“My parents nor I were ever made aware that this would be a possibility,” she said. “We didn’t know it would be an option for him to have this relieved.”
He’s now petitioned for release from his probation three times in the past five years, she said.
Kozak said she believes that victims are being misled when they agree to plea deals for their abusers that include lifetime probation, because those victims believe the perpetrators will be supervised for the rest of their lives.
“This is making a mockery of our judicial system, retraumatizing our victims and putting our communities at risk,” she said.
Dan Lundell, who has a family member who was sexually assaulted when she was four years old, agreed with Kozak that many times families don’t really understand what lifetime probation means.
“Victims do feel totally screwed over when they accept a plea when they think there’s lifetime probation,” Lundell told the committee.
At six years into his probation term, the man who assaulted his relative seemed to be doing well — but then he reoffended and authorities discovered he had assaulted many more victims, Lundell said.
“Offenders are desperate to get out of the system,” he said. “They don’t want to be on probation, they don’t want to be in therapy. It’s hard. It’s difficult.”
The option to get out of probation early by petitioning a judge, in Lundell’s view, gives perpetrators an incentive to act like their therapy has worked when it actually hasn’t.
Some defense lawyers and family members of sex offenders say the bill is unnecessary.
Kathryn Krejci, a member of the progressive advocacy group Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, said the bill would not make communities safer and would unnecessarily leave people who are low risk on probation. That might include someone who committed a sex crime as a teen and who is unlikely to reoffend.
She said that 10- and 20-year minimums for probation will lead to perpetrators turning down plea deals that include lifetime probation. Krejci added that judges want to put offenders on lifetime probation so that the offenders can get the mandatory mental health treatment that comes with that sentence.
Krejci said that, in her experience as a public defender, if an offender knows he’ll be on probation for at least 20 years, he will wait until toward the end of that time period to get treatment.
“We want people to frontload treatment, because we want our communities to be safer, and we want them to be treated,” she said.
Those given lifetime probation must complete mental health treatment, as well as a survey of their sexual interests, polygraphs about their sexual history and complete a relapse prevention plan.
Vicky Campo, whose son is on lifetime probation for a sex crime, told the committee that it’s already incredibly difficult to convince a judge to release a person from lifetime probation.
“We need a mechanism on the backend to show whether or not these people are or are not truly dangerous, and the judge is in the best position to make that call,” Campo said.
Campo initially told the committee that her son was in college when he had sex with a girl who was in high school, and that the girl “was the initiator.” But after further questioning from the committee, Campo admitted that the girl had been 14 at the time while her son was 25, and that she wasn’t sure if her son knew the girl’s age at the time.
Her son has served eight years of probation following five years in prison, she said, adding that it was difficult for him to find a job or a place to live under the terms of his probation.
The committee voted to approve the bill 5-3, with only Republican support.
Phoenix Democrat Analise Ortiz thanked the victims and their families for their bravery in sharing their stories and said she shared their concerns about the misleading nature of using the term lifetime probation when that probation doesn’t always last a lifetime. But she ultimately voted against the bill.
“It’s an incredibly tough topic,” Ortiz said. “But I feel like this decision is best left in a judge’s hands.”
The bill will next go to the full House of Representatives for consideration.
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