The sex-offender population in Utah prisons has doubled since 1980, so straining the corrections system that most don't receive therapy until they have served the bulk of their terms, officials say.
Christine Mitchell, director of planning and research at Utah State Prison, said 460, or 23 percent, of the prison's 2,000 inmates are sex offenders."That's way up from what it used to be. It's more than doubled in the last few years," she said. In 1980, 11 percent of the inmates were sex offenders.
The increase is largely the result of a 1983 law requiring mandatory minimum sentences of three, six or nine years to life imprisonment for convicted offenders. The law currently is under review by a legislative task force.
Mitchell said that as the number of offenders has increased, so has the number of paroles and cases handled on probation.
But Mitchell said the real problem is not management, but rehabilitation programs.
We're so underfunded in that area," she said. "We don't have the money essential for rehabilitation."
As a result, many sex offenders receive no treatment until about two years before they are paroled, she said.
John Hutchinson, an Ogden defense attorney who has represented several sex offenders, is critical of the minimum mandatory sentences because of the danger posed by other inmates.
"They'd better be designing some different housing or some of these inmates aren't going to live to tell about it," he said.
Mitchell said most men convicted of sex offenses, particularly those involving children, are first-time offenders and over 40 years old.
"I don't think they are people who can hold their own in prison," Hutchinson said. "They have to be housed in very protective circumstances."
He said the shortage of rehabilitative services and segregation requirements are the result of the mandatory sentences, which he believes are a legislative encroachment on the powers of the judiciary.
mitchell said the mandatory sentences also constitute "an unbelievable expense" for the corrections system because it is required to provide three years of therapy to paroled offenders.