Repeat Sex Offender in Utah

A Provo man who was arrested for multiple sexual charges against a young child turned out to be a repeat sex offender, registered both times in the state of Utah.

Sexual abuse of a child

Photo by: Victor

Photo by: Victor

56 year old Roger Lowell Falkner of Provo Utah was arrested after a young child came forward and told police Falkner had sexually abused her. When confronted with the charges, Falkner verified everything the little girl had told police and was booked into the Utah County Jail on multiple charges.

Repeat sex offender

This incident was not the first time Falkner had been charged with sexual offenses; in fact, Falkner was a convicted repeat sex offender in the state of Utah. According to Family Watchdog, his first conviction was in December of 1992 for second degree felony sexual abuse of a child. Nearly 13 years later in September of 2005, he was convicted of third degree attempted forcible sexual abuse. Now 12 years later he faces a first degree felony for sodomy on a child; three second degree felonies for sexual abuse of a child, dealing harmful material to a minor, and exploitation of a minor; he also faces a third degree felony for lewdness.

Recidivism rate of sex offenders

Repeat Sex Offender

Photo by: Ken Teegardin

Regrettably, there are times when a person convicted of a sex crime is not successfully rehabilitated and becomes a repeat sex offender with new sexual charges against them. Fortunately, a document put forth by the Utah Department of Corrections & Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice in 2010 portrays that repeat offenders, or recidivism, isn’t as common as people think. Although the number of sex offenders under the watch of the Department of Corrections has continued to increase over the years, most of those who are arrested after being released are arrested because of “technical violations of the conditions of parole, not new criminal behavior”.

Sex offender treatment programs

The Utah Department of Corrections notes that strict probation as well as the state of Utah’s sex offender program is to thank for the lower rate of repeat offenders. They shared the results of a study conducted over the course of up to 26 years of “388 offenders of a felony sex offense who were treated in the Bonneville Community Corrections Center program between 1979 and 1994, [including] both successful program completers and failures” and indicated that “83% of the offenders had no new criminal convictions during the entire follow-up period. “ The UDC document then went on to proclaim that “successful completers of treatment were significantly less likely to have any form of recidivism that those who failed- successful treatment completers had a 26% lower recidivism rate than non-completers. If the treatment programs are so successful, why would someone such as Roger Falkner continue on to be repeat sex offender?

Program funding

Photo by: Kevin Cortopassi

Photo by: Kevin Cortopassi

Sadly, for a program that has been proven to work to rehabilitate sex offenders, it has not received the funding needed to keep up with the demand. Regardless of inflation, the sex offender treatment program in Utah hasn’t seen an increase in funding for over twenty years. Instead, they have lost one of their major facilities to house inmates who are incarcerated for sexual offenses and awaiting the program. Now, those convicted of a sexual offense are dispersed among the prison population while they sit on waiting list pending treatment. Hopefully they will be able to receive the help they need before their time is served and they are back in the community. Although there has been no news of increased funding for the sex offender treatment programs, there are changes being made to fix the program so it is more effective for those inmates who are participating. Perhaps these changes will help reduce another person like Falkner from becoming a repeat sex offender and ruining a victim’s life as well as their own. For more information on charges for sexual offenses or for defense and treatment options for a repeat sex offender, contact a criminal defense attorney.

Do Sex Crimes Receive Too Harsh of Punishments in Utah?

Utah is known for being too tough on many crimes such as drugs, yet few question whether or not other offenses such as sex crimes are receiving harsh punishments as well.

Leniency for some, not for others

Photo by: eflon

Photo by: eflon

Utah is making strides to reduce the penalties for offenses such as drug possession, yet those arrested for sex crimes can usually expect to receive exceptionally harsh punishments with no public outcry for leniency. Sex offenders receive no mercy in court, and everyone seems happy to lock them up and throw away the key. Although sex crimes are very serious charges and should carry punishments, there are some things to consider before locking offenders away for life.

Prison population

One of the reasons House Bill 348 was signed was to help decrease the prison population by reducing the number of drug offenders taking up room. While those arrested for drug crimes have faced unfair punishments, the prison population won’t necessarily decrease with the drug offenders gone. Instead the prisons will be filled to capacity with those serving lengthy sentences for murder or sex crimes. According to the Utah Department of Corrections (UDC), “Nearly one-third of the inmates in Utah’s prison system are serving time for a sexual offense.” This number of sex offenders in prison has been increasing and will continue to do so until the prisons are at full capacity; then what?

Mandatory prison sentences for sex crimes

Photo by: Chris Potter

Photo by: Chris Potter

While everyone else is getting out early or having reduced sentences to start, those in prison for sex crimes will be there for an extended length of time. A person with no previous criminal record that is convicted of a sex crime will spend anywhere from 5 years to life in prison. Utah Code 76-3-406 adds regarding those charged with sex crimes ranging from aggravated sexual assault to rape, “probation shall not be granted, the execution or imposition of sentence shall not be suspended, the court shall not enter a judgment for a lower category of offense, and hospitalization shall not be ordered, the effect of which would in any way shorten the prison sentence for any person who commits a capital felony or a first degree felony [of various sex crimes]”. In other words, they can go to prison and stay there.

Lack of treatment programs

While many sex offenders wait out their lengthy prison sentences, most will not be able to partake in the much needed Sex Offender Treatment Program to help them “control urges and impulses” as the UDC aims to do to help rehabilitate them. While the State of Utah will dish out millions to house inmates imprisoned for sex crimes, they are not increasing funding for the sex offender programs that will help treat these inmates by giving them the therapeutic and behavioral support they need. In fact:

• According to a briefing by the Utah State Legislature in 2011, “the last new funding for prison sex offender treatment programming was in 1996” twenty years ago!

• At that time of that briefing, the Utah State legislature stated “the department of corrections [was] funded for approximately 250 sex offender treatment slots” but had nearly 2,000 offenders who were incarcerated for sex crimes. The number of sex offenders has increased in five years, with treatment remaining stagnant.

• While not outwardly stating so, sex offender treatment may in fact be decreasing or as UDC called “a demand coupled with a lack of resources”. In October of 2015, the Special Services Dormitory which housed inmates who were “awaiting or undergoing sex offender treatment” was closed because of staffing issues. The inmates were then absorbed back into the general inmate population with a lower chance of receiving treatment.

The one-third of Utah’s prison population that consists of those convicted of sex crimes are not getting the help they need to be rehabilitated when their far distant release date nears. They are practically set up to fail.

Low recidivism rate

Arrested for Sex Crimes

Photo by: Office of Public Affairs

Even with the odds against them, those mostly first time offenders convicted of sex crimes have a surprisingly low recidivism rate. The Sex Offender Treatment Report 2010 stated that 43% of sex offender parolees returned to jail within a year. 87% of those returning to jail did so because of “technical violations of the conditions of parole, not new criminal behavior.” Only 12.3% returned for committing another crime. While the recidivism rate for sex offenders is already low, graduation from a treatment program dropped that recidivism rate even lower. Those that graduation from a Sex Offender Treatment Program only had a recidivism rate of 19.5%; 26% lower than those who didn’t complete treatment. The majority of those returning were also rearrested for simple technical violations of their parole.

Treatment and parole most effective

While many Utah residents wish to see those convicted of sex crimes spend a lifetime in jail, there are other options such as treatment and parole that are proven to be more effective. By reducing penalties and sentencing while in turn increasing funding for the Sex Offender Treatment Program, taxpayers will end up saving millions in the long run and Utah prisons will not become overrun by those serving life sentences for first time sex crimes.

Prison Reform, Relocation Discussed to Address Utah’s Prison Population

Utah prison reform discussed

Photo: Erika Wittlieb

As part of Utah’s ongoing attempt to address the growing prison population, input on prison reform was recently taken from experts in Texas who have also worked toward fixing the problem in their own state. Reforms have been officially on the table in Utah since August of 2014 when a subcommittee was formed to address the problem, but it’s questionable if they will receive public support. Add in the fact that the current prison location at Point of the Mountain is “falling apart” and unable to support the growth but also unable to find a new home, and Utah has a problem that some seem unwilling to fix.

Prison Reform Means “Sweeping Changes”

According to a report from KSL News, two prison reform experts from Texas, a state with their own problems to deal with regarding incarceration, have called for “sweeping changes.”

Jerry Madden, a former Texas state representative and senior fellow at Right on Crime, a conservative public policy foundation in Texas, called prison reform the best way to control prison population and taxpayer costs. He said there were two options if a state wasn’t going to build new prisons—something Utah will have to deal with regardless of these options. They can either let people out of prison early or figure out a way to slow down the numbers coming in.

One aspect of prison reform is working on breaking the cycle of incarceration. Madden said early childhood intervention is the best and cheapest method for keeping people out of prison. He stated that one of the best indicators that someone has a future in prison is to look at their home life, claiming that if one or both parents have spent time in prison, it’s likely the child will end up there as well.

These problems at home can lead to drug, alcohol, and mental health issues, something which also contributes to the growing prison population. Along these lines, the Utah subcommittee that was formed in August to address the recidivism problem in Utah has proposed similar measures as those recommended by the Right on Crime foundation in addition to early intervention. These measures are to specifically make drug possession a misdemeanor, strengthen probation and parole supervision, and expand treatment programs.

These views seem to be in alignment with a prison reform movement nationwide. In December, it was reported that the American Bar Association had been working with a task force formed by the House Judiciary Committee—the Task Force on Over-Criminalization—to examine increasing numbers of federal crimes providing for prison sentences. Statistics from the task force that seem to indicate a problem in the system included:

  • The cost of housing one federal inmate has reached $29,000 per year
  • 75,579 prisoners are currently serving mandatory minimum sentences (another area being examined by the ABA House of Delegates)
  • 99,246 prisoners are currently serving prison time for nonviolent drug offenses

Marc Levin, the public policy director for Right on Crime who also spoke on the need for prison reform in Utah, stated that he believed most people would say we should reserve prison time for criminals the public is afraid of, “not those we’re mad at.”

The problem is that when it comes to many of these reforms, while the public may agree with Levin, they have a hard time supporting some of the changes which would bring it about, such as a loosening of the laws. In addition, funding for some of the treatment programs has been either drastically reduced or cut altogether.

When Prison Reform Means Re-forming a Prison

Another area for consideration in Utah is the ongoing search for a new prison site to replace the current Point of the Mountain location in Draper. Besides the fact that House Majority Assistant Whip-elect Brad Wilson has said the current location is “falling apart,” there is also the fact that given the growth rate of the Utah prison population, the Draper location will be short thousands of beds over the next twenty years.

So the answer is either a major (and costly) renovation of the current facility or building a new facility elsewhere. However, public reaction from citizens in the majority of potential sites which have been proposed demonstrates another side of the unwillingness to remedy what is clearly a problem in Utah.

Of the six sites previously suggested, three of them have been taken off the list. Two of them—Saratoga Springs and West Jordan—had the offers removed by landowners, and the site near the Salt Lake City International Airport was removed as a result of wetland issues. However, residents from all three remaining sites have also protested the consideration of having a new prison in their location. While the legislature was hoping to resolve this issue this year, House Speaker-elect Greg Hughes has said he doesn’t believe it is going to happen.

Prison reform is a tricky issue, and it would appear the solution will have to come from many sources. Utah will need to really look at its recidivism rate and their current punitive measures and address those, but because this isn’t a problem that is fixed overnight, the lack of capacity at the current prison facility also must be addressed. Perhaps most importantly, Utahns need to recognize that if they want to get a little, they are going to need to give a little.