Child advocates Friday angrily criticized - and said they'll battle - any efforts to repeal a law that requires mandatory prison sentences for child abusers.
Without hearing testimony from those who favor mandatory penalties for sex crimes against children, a Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice task force recently decided that child abuse law, HB209, which was passed by the 1983 Legislature, should be amended to exclude mandatory sentencing.But task force members confronted some angry opposition Friday.
"I'm going to muster the forces of the community to fight this," said Delpha Baird, vice president of the Utah chapter of the National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse.
" If we repeal the law, we are saying to sex offenders, `We care more about crime against property than crimes against our children.' "
"I've talked with children who are victims of sex crimes. Their lives have been ruined. They have lost their right to an innocent, happy childhood.
"We've got to change the focus from, `What's right for the perpetrator?' to `What's right for the victim?' "
The task force had decided that discretion in sentencing child molesters should be returned to judges and the Board of Pardons.
This recommendation was met with vigorous opposition Friday by Robert Parrish, of the Utah Attorney General's office who prosecuted convicted child-abuser Allan B. Hadfield; U.S. Attorney Brent D. Ward and his assistant Richard Lambert; and Baird. Utahns are willing to pay more taxes for prisons to protect children, she said.
Baird criticized 4th District Judge Cullen Y. Christensen who placed Hadfield on probation after Hadfield had been convicted of sexually abusing and sodomizing his 12-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter.
"Judges who are not willing to impose harsh sentences for this horrible crime are the very reason a minimum-mandatory sentence is required."
Although Utah laws provide for mandatory sentences of 10-years-to-life for sodomy on a child, Christensen ruled that Hadfield met each of 12 criteria necessary to qualify for probation under an incest exception to the mandatory sentencing guidelines.
Ward, Lambert and Parrish drafted HB209 years ago. While they recognize some improvements could be made in implementing the minimum-mandatory sentences to avoid too many plea bargains and probation sentences, they absolutely defend the need for such a strict statute.
Joining Baird's commitment to fight any action to repeal mandatory sentencing, Ward said he would set aside his other duties to lead a full-time to battle maintain HB209.
"If an action to do away with mandatory penalties of child abusers is initiated, it would lead to a firestorm of indignation and outrage by the people of this state whose children would be placed at risk. It would be toying with the health and safety of our children," Ward said.
"Instead of looking at ways to repeal the law, they should be looking at ways to make the law stronger."
Effective treatment of those who choose to sexually abuse children is a mirage, he said. Putting a pedophile in prison for a long time is the best treatment, he said.
Lambert believes most Utahns would pay $20 more a year in taxes if they knew it was going to protect their children.
"The severity of the sentence should be commensurate with the harm inflicted. Sex crimes against children affect the victim and his family in a profound way, yet the punishment is light," Lambert said.
The task force will meet June 24 to reconsider the sentencing issue.