CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A state legislative committee has moved ahead a bill that would double the maximum prison sentence for some child abusers.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 9-0 Thursday to advance the bill to the full House of Representatives to consider.
The legislation would change Wyoming law to punish non-aggravated child abuse by up to 10 years in prison. The current maximum is five years.
Aggravated child abuse is punishable in Wyoming by up to 25 years in prison. But proponents of increasing the penalty for non-aggravated child abuse say aggravated child abuse is a difficult charge to prosecute successfully.
Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, tells the Wyoming Tribune Eagle even severe child abuse often falls short of causing the serious bodily injury required to get a conviction for aggravated abuse.
“I’ve talked with at least 10 different attorneys who practice in this area, and not one could remember us ever prosecuting aggravated child abuse because the standard is too high,” Zwonitzer said.
Lynn Huylar, director of Safe Harbor, a nonprofit child advocacy center in Cheyenne, agreed that prosecutors will pursue the lower-level statute.
“The trauma has already been inflicted, and it is already there,” she said. “But holding offenders accountable is very important, because I think that people need to know that you can’t do horrible things to kids and spend just a couple years in jail while that child lives the rest of their life with the effects.”
Wyoming Department of Corrections Director Bob Lampert said about seven or eight people are sentenced to prison in Wyoming each year on child-abuse charges. He said inmates convicted of child-abuse crimes, upon release, rarely end up back in prison.
“This is at least some suggestion that the current level of sanctions is appropriate and is adequate to deter future criminal activity,” he said.
“As heinous as the underlying offense of child abuse is, the fact remains that once released from prison, and with supervision, this group of offenders very seldom returns to prison for any subsequent offense of any kind, including parole violations.”
Lampert asked the committee to consider the financial cost of lengthier sentences. It costs the state an average of $110 per day to incarcerate an individual.
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