A sex offender whose lenient sentence for molesting a child led to a crackdown on punishment for sexual predators in Vermont will likely be released from prison next month, state corrections officials say.

Mark Hulett is due for release Jan. 2, but will remain under the state Corrections Department's supervision for life and could return to prison if he commits another offense or violates conditions of his release.

Judge Edward Cashman was criticized by lawmakers and Gov. Jim Douglas when he sentenced Hulett, then 34, to 60 days for sexually assaulting the daughter of a family friend numerous times during a four-year period beginning when she was 6.

Cashman, now retired, said he had wanted a short prison sentence so Hulett could get the sex-offender treatment that the Corrections Department would not provide behind bars. After the department changed its policy, the judge lengthened the sentence to three years.

"He is going to complete his treatment, and he is on track to be released in January, provided he can find approved housing," Brian Kearns, Hulett's caseworker, said recently.

Finding housing could delay Hulett's release, said Andy Pallito, the acting corrections commissioner. Hulett must live in an area without large numbers of children; must not live near schools and other facilities where children gather; and must avoid friendships with people who have children.

The outcry over Hulett's sentence in 2006 led Vermont to crack down on punishment for sex crimes, including new mandatory minimum sentences for some offenders.

"We've seen far more punitive sentences, longer terms of incarceration, as a result of the Hulett matter," said Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan.

"Sexual violence against children has become more of a priority not only for law enforcement but for the Legislature, which is a good thing," he said. "It made the Legislature talk about a very difficult process that we go through every day, which is to do justice, and that can be very difficult for the people involved."