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LDS jail volunteer in trouble for inmate advocacy

by Stephen Dark
Posted // 2012-07-30 -

Last week, district judge David Nuffer sentenced Jeffrey Pirente to 14 years in prison for possessing and trading child porn. Among those who wrote pre-sentencing letters to Nuffer requesting leniency were not only Pirente's relatives but also an LDS volunteer at the jail where he was held.

The letter, which you can read in its entirety below, was written by LDS Church volunteer Spencer Robinson. Such volunteers visit inmates who are members of the LDS Church to provide them with ecclesiastical counsel a couple of times a week.

Weber County jail chief Kevin Burton says such letters are discouraged. "It's our policy they not do that," he says. Those who volunteer to proselytize at the jail are told "explicitly" in an orientation course, Burton says, "not to write letters."

Robinson's access to the jail has been suspended while Burton looks into the issue. "I haven't got all the answers yet."

According to a sentencing memorandum, 44-year-old Pirente had over 65 movies and 1,000 images relating to child pornography involving a variety of sexually explicit images, some of adults with children. The memo noted that 20 percent were  sadomasochistic in nature.

Burton expresses doubt as to how Robinson could formulate an opinion on Pirente's character based on his limited interaction with him. Inmates, he notes, can be highly manipulative, and that was something some counselors understood but others did not.

Robinson "made a poor choice," he says. "He did something he was told not to do."

That choice comprised of writing a three-page letter in which Robinson lauded Pirente's maturity, apparent sincerity and repentance. He noted how Pirente led scripture-sharing in his pod, hosted LDS gospel-driven discussions with inmates, encouraged them to attend an LDS 12-step program and even heard a confession from another inmate.

"If all the men in this facility had both the desire and works shown by Jeff, there would be a vast difference in the entire spirit, mood and atmosphere of the [jail]," Robinson wrote. "It would be more than just a holding bin, and more of a crucible for the better of humanity. I believe that Jeff deserves a second chance. If anyone here has demonstrated the humility to accept their actions, pay the required price [both just and merciful], and move on to start a new and better chapter, it would be Jeff."


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