Havre Daily News
Dozens of registered sexual offenders live in Havre and the surrounding area. Residents need to be aware of these offenders and educate themselves on the offenders' crimes before jumping to conclusions, said a licensed counselor who works with those who've registered with the state.
“People jump to conclusions and they don't know the whole case,” licensed counselor Marla North said last week in an interview from Lewistown.
She was quick to point out that some offenders cannot be taken lightly.
“We take this really seriously. Some do need to be watched and are dangerous. There are violent rapists,” she said.
Also, treatment doesn't guarantee that the offender won't commit another crime, she added.
North said many on the registry have simply made what she called a “sexual mistake.” Some offenders, if given a chance, can be rehabilitated if they take their treatment seriously, she said.
According to the state's registry, in Hill County 23 people have registered as sexual offenders and two registered as sexual and violent offenders. In Blaine County, 10 people have registered as sexual offenders and one person has registered as both a sexual and violent offender. In Chouteau County, four have registered as sexual offenders. In Liberty County, one person has registered as a sexual and violent offender.
North, who works with a state-approved sexual offender program, said it is important for residents to be aware of offenders who have moved into their neighborhoods. She said people should educate themselves on the crimes these offenders have committed before becoming fearful of them. Know the facts, she added.
One example North gave of a “sexual mistake” was a statutory rape situation. An 18-year old man and his 15-year-old girlfriend may think they're in love. The men, she said, are not often educated in statutory rape law until they are charged with an offense.
“I know kids who wait until the girl or boy turns 18, they get married and have kids,” North said. “What people don't understand is that if the laws in effect today were in effect years ago, there'd be a lot of older people who spent time in jail. It was different back then, and people often don't understand the offenders' charges.”
Offenders are ordered to follow a strict program she said. They learn about victim empathy and other topics.
In addition to victim empathy, offenders must submit to a polygraph test. North said that while the tests aren't 100 percent accurate, “They help the offenders to stay accountable.”
She also said that if the offenders don't stay accountable, then their treatment is terminated, a letter is sent to their probation officer, and they are then taken back to court. After that, she said, “We never know what happens. Sometimes they get too many minor infractions, get sent to court, and instead of going back to jail they get a second chance.”
Usually, North said, once the offender realizes how close they came to going back to prison, they'll follow through with the treatment. Sometimes they don't and they get into trouble again and are sent back to prison to finish their sentence or serve a newly imposed term, she added.
A lot of times, especially with incest cases, North and her associates will involve the family members, neighbors, friends and others in the treatment plan. She said these people sign up to be chaperones for the offender. These people, when armed with information, help protect the offender and the community. They learn about the laws, the treatment and how to protect the children in their family and their community, as well as the offender.
Offenders could be tempted to re-offend, or be framed, if left alone with a small child, she said.
“I know numerous families who get back together and do well,” North said of incest offenders who complete their treatment.
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