BOISE A parole board's decision to release a former Boy Scout camp counselor who acknowledged molesting at least two dozen youngsters has a lawmaker looking at ways to change victim notification and minimum sentencing laws.
Bradley Stowell, 36, who pleaded guilty to molesting two boys, was initially jailed for 150 days and put on probation for 15 years.
Sent to prison in 2005 after violating his probation, he served three years of a 2- to 14-year sentence before being paroled on June 2.
The Idaho Commission on Pardons and Parole approved his release, and now Stowell is living in Boise and is required to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet.
Paul Steed, the father of two of Stowell's victims, said he wasn't notified about Stowell's parole hearings. And Rep. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, said he intends to push for changes in Idaho's laws to make sure that doesn't happen again.
"Somebody who in this particular situation has molested multiple children, and has really harmed more than one community and kind of left a wake of destruction in his path, needs to pay the price for what he did," Ruchti said Friday. "And I don't think Brad Stowell did that. I don't think he paid the price he should have paid."
The high-profile molestation case has already led to changes in Idaho's laws, including a longer statute of limitations to give victims of child abuse more time to report the crimes. Steed frequently testified before Idaho lawmakers during past legislative sessions, and was known in eastern Idaho for his efforts.
But he wasn't notified when Stowell's first parole hearing was held in June 2006, nor when the second one was held in December 2007. Olivia Craven, executive director of the Idaho Commission on Pardons and Parole, said a notification letter was mailed to the Steeds, but it was to an old address where they hadn't lived for some time a problem she blames on an outdated law and administrative practices.
"The law says the court clerk is to notify victims who want to know of the hearings," Craven said. "Over the years, that has evolved into the prosecutors notifying us, so what we're getting is just the information the prosecutor has at the time. And the law says that victims need to keep us apprised of any address changes."
That doesn't always happen, however. Steed acknowledges he didn't report an address change, but said he never suspected Stowell would be seriously considered for parole so soon. If he'd known, he would have attended the hearing and testified against Stowell's release, Steed said.
"We were told by the prosecutor's office that they would notify us if we needed to go to a hearing, and I think most people assumed it would be a long time before anyone would seriously consider putting him up for parole," Steed said. "If a high profile case like this one can slip through the cracks, that makes you really wonder about normal cases, where maybe just one family are the victims. That's a scary issue."
Ruchti and Craven say they plan to work together to come up with legislation that will clarify and improve the state's method of notifying victims about parole hearings. In the meantime, Craven said, the parole board's staff will be taking some extra efforts to make sure victims are notified, by working more closely with prosecuting attorneys.
But the situation isn't as simple as it seems. Years often pass between a crime and the parole hearing, and prosecuting attorneys may not have updated addresses or phone numbers. Some victims don't want to be notified about parole hearings. And even when some victims are contacted, they may not want to testify or may be unable to get to the parole hearings. It can be difficult for the commission to know if a victim didn't respond because the address was outdated or because they didn't want to be involved.
"Victims are an extremely important part of this process," Craven said. "But we have tried to be very sensitive. If some victims don't want to participate in the process it doesn't mean they don't have an opinion or very passionate feelings. We want participation from victims but if they don't we still try to take the impact on the victim into account."
Stowell had completed a sex offender treatment program and underwent a mental evaluation while in prison, Craven said. A parole hearing officer who is charged with researching the inmate and making a recommendation about parole to the board had recommended against release, but that recommendation was made before the treatment program and evaluation were complete, Craven said.
Ruchti said the case has highlighted several issues that need legislative attention.
"I don't think the system would be well served to overreact, but maybe we need to do certain things to make sure the parole board's caseload isn't so heavy that they cannot take the time they need to seriously investigate cases," Ruchti said.
"We may need to increase the number of people on the parole board. I'll be considering some other changes and options too, looking for the best practices to lock up those criminals who need to be kept behind bars and setting up a system for community treatment and in-house treatment for those who can integrate back into society."