Number of Vermont Sex Offenders Keeps Growing

Many people come to UVM believing that they have arrived in a sheltered community where the problems of the rest of the world do not exist. Burlington, with all of its’ small town New England charm, can often lull visitors into a dangerous sense of security.

Times are changing in Vermont, and this is proven by the growing number of convicted sexual predators that walk our streets.

The number of registered sex offenders in Vermont has increased from about 700 in 2001 to currently having approximately 2,400. This is a significant statistic for our community.

Last March, Laura Winterbottom’s dead body was found in an alley in close proximity to a convicted sex offender’s apartment. The sex offender, Gerald Montgomery has since been charged with first-degree murder and aggravated sexual assault.

The trial has yet to start, but there has already been a public call for a change in sex registry laws.

Police Chief Thomas Tremblay agrees with many residents that the state’s online sex offender registry should be expanded beyond the high-level offenders listed now. Many are upset that so little information was given to the community about Montgomery’s criminal record and that he had plead down a previous charge that would have put him on the high-level offender watch list.

Sheri L. Englert, coordinator of Vermont’s sex registry, states that; “There are two types of registry status, supervised and unsupervised.” Supervised status is controlled by the Vermont State Department of Corrections (DOC) through the Center for Prevention and Treatment for Sexual Abuse.

Their spokesperson, Tammy Smith, said that judges decide whether or not a criminal is qualified for supervision status at sentencing. Supervision status is usually maintained by a parole officer, but does not include a community notification.

Even if a person is qualified as a high-level offender, their specific name and information is omitted from public notifications. The judge may decide the minimum amount of time an offender must stay registered, which is either 10 years or lifetime.

Once an offender is off supervision status, they are only required to fill out and send in a verification letter to the DOC once a year. Although Smith maintains that 98% of the verification letters are returned, offenders remain completely anonymous within their communities.

For supervised sex offenders, the best practice imposed by parole officers is to require the offender to disclose their status when engaging in social relationships. This may mean that we should broaden our line questions to our friends new love interest to include; “Have you ever been convicted of a sex crime?”

It may seem like an over-cautious step, but there may come a moment in your time in Burlington when a cautious step could prevent a serious crime.