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Kandiyohi County probation officers see workload jump

WILLMAR — Changes in how Minnesota sentences and supervises individuals charged with criminal sexual conduct offenses have meant additional work for county probation officers.

The Internet, which gives sexual predators easy access to a wider “victim pool,” has also been a factor in more crimes and more supervision, said Jay Vagle, a Kandiyohi County probation officer.

In a report to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners, Vagle provided an overview of changes in how criminal sexual conduct charges are handled in the state and how that affects the county probation office and its workload.

The county currently has two probation officers that are dedicated to sexual and predatory offenders. Each officer has a caseload of about 45 individuals.

The second officer was added about 13 years ago to handle increased mandatory supervision requirements and a growing number of predatory offenders.

Vagle said there has been a significant increase in Internet sex crimes, primarily because cell phones and social networking sites allow predators to “have access to such a broad range of people.”

He said a predator from out of state can meet someone online and come to Kandiyohi County where a crime is committed.

If the defendant doesn’t have a home to return to when released from jail, he may stay in the county and “we have to deal with them” and provide continued supervision, said Vagle.

“The Internet has definitely changed our involvement with those offenses,” he said.

Over the years the state has also increased the length of mandatory sentences for sexual offenders and increased the length of time they must remain on probation.

Vagle said requiring predatory offenders to register within the county they live has also increased the workload for the community corrections department.

The registration program began in 1991 for adult offenders and in 1994 for juveniles.

There are currently 100 registered predatory offenders in Kandiyohi County.

Some have committed crimes that are not serious enough to be given a risk ranking of level 1, 2 or 3 but they must still register with the county and complete lengthy forms.

Vagle said over the years the forms have become more detailed as a result of high profile state cases. The original one-page form that required a primary residence is now six pages and requires offenders to provide information on cabins, storage sheds and vehicles they own or operate.

Offenders must re-submit those forms every year and county probation officers must conduct random checks to make sure they’re living where they say they are.

In Kandiyohi County there are currently 23 “level 1” offenders, 10 “level 2” offenders and two “level 3” offenders.

Level 3 is the most serious type of offender and involves community notification and public meetings announcing where the individual is living.

 Community notification when sex offenders are released from prison began in 1997 in Minnesota, said Vagle. Before their term is up a committee assigns them a risk level, which triggers different degrees of community notification requirements.

When Level 1 offenders are released, authorities consider them to be low public risk and only victims and witnesses are notified.

Level 2 offenders are viewed as a moderate risk to public safety, and schools, daycares, victims and witnesses are informed of the release.

Level 3 offenders are considered to have the highest public risk and the entire community is notified when they move to a town.

Vagle also said most offenders are required to participate in psychosexual evaluations and treatments as part of their release agreement. He said polygraph tests are common tools used during treatment to make sure offenders disclose their entire “deviant history.”

Vagle’s report was part of the Commissioner’s efforts to incorporate the community corrections department into its redesign of the family services and public health departments, and to learn more about programs provided by the corrections department.

Vagle has made similar presentations to other county departments, schools and organizations, including Safe Avenues’ Shelter House.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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