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Pawlenty Proposal to Get Tough on Sex Offenders Likely to Have Huge Public Support

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Previous polling suggests Minnesota residents back various tougher penalties on sex offenders by greater than 3:1 margins

Governor Tim Pawlenty's proposal on Tuesday that the State should increase the presumptive sentence for most first-degree criminal sexual conduct from 12 to 25 years is the kind of tough-on-crime policy that is likely to receive overwhelming public support among Minnesota residents.

A little more than five years ago, during Pawlenty's first term in office (when the Governor enjoyed a Republican majority in the House of Representatives), a series of public opinion polls on the punishment of sex offenders was conducted in Minnesota by multiple polling organizations while the Legislature in St. Paul debated whether or not to increase penalties on sex offenders whose crimes included other 'heinous elements.'

When 625 Minnesotans were asked in January of 2004 whether or not the state's current provisions for the punishment of convicted sex offenders were too tough, too lenient, or adequate, 73 percent replied "too lenient" with only 18 percent replying "adequate," and 1 percent "too tough" (MPR / Pioneer Press poll).

When the Legislature did not pass tougher sentences for sex offenders by the end of its 2004 session that May, 72 percent of 625 registered voters surveyed supported passing a bill creating tougher sentences for sex offenders while just 22 percent opposed it (MPR / Pioneer Press poll).

In the Governor's press release on Tuesday, Pawlenty argued that his proposal will not only protect Minnesotans but also save the state money:

"(T)he proposal would also save the state some money over the long-term as offenders who would've been civilly committed in the more expensive Minnesota Sex Offender Program would be kept in prison longer than under current law. Prison costs are currently $63 per day while civil commitment costs are $325 per day."

Back in January 2004, a Star Tribune poll of 821 residents found that 67 percent believed Minnesota was committing too few sex offenders to treatment facilities after completing their prison sentence, with only 5 percent believing too many were being committed and 9 percent 'about right.'

But Pawlenty's new proposal, if enacted, would more than double the time sex offenders serve before such prison sentences were completed in the first instance.

Towards that end, the same Star Tribune poll also found that 76 percent of Minnesotans believed individuals convicted of serious sex crimes should be sent to prison "indefinitely" whereupon it would be up to a parole board to determine if and when they would be released. Only 15 percent supported the current system of finite sentencing for sex offenders.

Governor Pawlenty added that the State needs to "(D)o even more to protect our citizens from dangerous sexual predators. We need to change the law so we can keep these predators off our streets."

Past polling shows Minnesotans agree - back in January 2004, only 33 percent of registered voters believed the Minnesota corrections system was doing an 'excellent' or 'good' job in protecting the public from sex offenders, while 59 percent believed its performance was 'fair' or 'poor.' (MPR / Pioneer Press).

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