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Mandatory prison sentence for child pornography has mixed reviews

LA CROSSE, Wis. - Nearly a year has gone by since state lawmakers made it mandatory for people convicted in child pornography cases to serve a minimum three-year prison sentence.

But not all judges agree with the mandatory penalty.

In a given year, La Crosse County sees maybe a handful of child pornography cases.

It can be anything from someone looking at a picture or watching a video online, to someone committing the act and videotaping it, but finding justice isn't exactly a clear-cut answer.

When handing down a sentence, La Crosse County Circuit Court Judge Scott Horne said there are many things to consider.

"We're obligated to weigh the interest of public protection, the need to reflect the gravity of the offense and we need to take into account the character and the rehabilitative needs of the offender. The court is obligated to balance those factors," said Horne.


But Horne said the mandatory three-year minimum prison sentence for child pornography cases isn't appropriate for every single case.

"It's clear that the crime is an extremely serious one," said Horne. "Nonetheless, there will be cases in which there will be a consensus that under the facts of the individual case, that presumptive minimum should not be imposed."

"Three years seems like a small price to pay for that poor little kid who's going to be victimized over and over again," said Carolynn Devine, a social worker at Gundersen Lutheran Hospital. "I don't have a lot of sympathy for perpetrators of child pornography."

Devine said child pornography can have lasting effects on the victims.

"When child pornography is involved, they (the victims) really are handed down a life sentence themselves because these images of them are out in the community, for anybody to see, all over the world, over and over and over again, and they can do absolutely nothing to stop it," she said.

Devine said this could lead to things like post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, shame and anger that victims can carry with them for the rest of their lives.

While Horne sees the seriousness in the crime, he said finding justice doesn't come in a one size fits all.

"I think justice is done when courts are free to do what they are constitutionally required to do, and that is weighing all the factors that go into a sentencing decision and then impose an appropriate sentence," said Horne. "I think it's very difficult for justice to be done when a justice sentence is imposed by a Legislature sitting in Madison."

The state representative who sponsored the mandatory penalty says it's a good idea because he thought judges were being too lenient.

While the three-year minimum prison sentence is mandatory, judges can impose a lesser sentence, but only under very unique circumstances.

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