Seven years later

By Marty Trillhaase

Post Register editorial board members are Roger Plothow, publisher; J. Robb Brady, publisher emeritus; Marty Trillhaase, Opinions page editor; and Dean Miller, managing editor.

Stowell

It took a massive amount of publicity and his own probation violations to put sex abuser Brad Stowell in prison.

Seven years ago, Stowell drew 15 years of probation after serving only five months in jail. Unfortunately, his case is far from unusual. Last year, Idaho judges put 42 percent of convicted adult male sex offenders on probation.

Another 28 percent drew a "rider" -- which meant they'd serve six months at a medium-security prison in Cottonwood to determine if they could serve probation and return home.

Only 30 percent went directly to prison.

Why?

You'll get a series of reasons. There is a range of sexual abuse, some more serious than others.

Idaho's prison system is bursting at the seams, so judges are discouraged from assigning more inmates into it.

The prison system's rehabilitation budget is stretched thin, and rehab for pedophiles is expensive.

Pedophiles are extremely manipulative and have a knack for persuading people -- including judges -- to see things their way.

Pedophiles are at the bottom of the prison hierarchy. The predator himself becomes the prey for aggressive inmates. Occasionally -- especially with a particularly vulnerable defendant -- judges take that into account.

See any pattern here? The common thread is an almost unbroken focus on the defendant.

Until now.

In the Stowell case, victims came forward. Their compelling stories formed the heart of this newspaper's series on the Stowell case.

And through them, we've begun to learn some uncomfortable truths.

For instance, sex abuse is more prevalent in eastern Idaho. Last year, 39 sex abuse cases were filed in Bonneville County's courts. On a per capita basis, the county's sex abuse rate -- 4.7 per 10,000 population -- is the highest of any other population center in the state.

Victims of theft can be made whole again. But victims of sex abuse can't. Their loss of self-esteem and trust in others is permanent.

Nor does this abuse stop with one or two victims. Stowell admitted to 24 victims. The National Institute of Mental Health says the typical pedophile abuses 117 kids before he's caught and stopped.

You'll get some debate about recidivism, but Stowell's case exposes the limitations of rehabilitation. Watching porn and being alone with young boys violated his probation.

But he almost got away. Four years ago, he asked to be released from probation. At the time, his record was spotless. Had the request been granted -- it wasn't -- in 2001, the courts would have been powerless to touch him in 2005.

Certainly, the Stowell case provoked a more assertive posture by the prosecutors, who brought victims to testify at his probation violation hearing.

And District Judge Richard T. St. Clair seemed to acknowledge a change in the legal atmosphere. Stowell's attorneys wanted probation, prosecutors wanted straight prison time. Typically in those cases, judges split the difference and send the defendant to Cottonwood.

Not this time. St. Clair imposed the full sentence. Stowell will serve two to 14 years.

The question now is whether the Stowell case has produced the culture change Bonneville County Prosecutor Dane Watkins Jr. is hoping for. Has a system that seemingly cared more about keeping defendants out of harms' way -- even if it meant putting more victims at risk -- come back into balance?

Or is Stowell the one case that's captured our attention before we turn away once more?

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