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Jury Clears Pataki Over Post-Prison Detention of Sex Offenders

See also: Sex offenders awarded $1 in liability suit over N.Y. illegal 'civil commitments'

7-31-2013 New York:

A federal jury in Manhattan found on Wednesday that former Gov. George E. Pataki was not liable for violating the rights of six men who claimed that they were wrongly confined in state psychiatric hospitals after completing prison sentences for sexually violent crimes.

The six plaintiffs were confined under a 2005 initiative of the Pataki administration, in which state psychiatrists reviewed the cases of inmates as they completed their sentences to determine whether they should be confined to psychiatric hospitals.

The program was ended in 2006 after the New York State Court of Appeals said such prisoners were entitled to greater protections, including notice and a court-supervised commitment process.

The judge, Jed S. Rakoff of United States District Court, had already held that the program violated the plaintiffs’ rights to due process, but the jury still had to decide the extent to which Mr. Pataki and his three co-defendants were involved in creating or carrying out the policy that was then applied to the plaintiffs. The judge had also ruled that Mr. Pataki and the other officials did not have immunity from being sued.

The jury also cleared two of the three other defendants of liability: Glenn S. Goord, the former correctional services commissioner, and Eileen Consilvio, the former executive director of the Manhattan Psychiatric Center, where the plaintiffs were held. The third defendant, Sharon Carpinello, the former commissioner of the State Office of Mental Health, was found to be liable, although the jury awarded negligible damages.

During the trial, Mr. Pataki testified that he had asked his staff to put the initiative into effect after he failed repeatedly to win legislative approval for such a policy.

He said that among the reasons he pushed for the initiative were two incidents: the fatal 2005 stabbing by a convicted sex offender of a woman in a parking garage next to the Galleria mall in White Plains, and an experience he and his family members had years earlier, when they were accosted while hiking in a state park by a man he later learned was a sex offender.

“It just made me personally aware not just of the horrors of these crimes, but the immediacy of the possibility,” Mr. Pataki testified.

The plaintiffs were seeking compensatory and punitive damages. ..Source.. by BENJAMIN WEISER

NY jury hears closings in Pataki sex offender suit

7-29-2013 New York:

Jurors were asked to decide Monday whether former Gov. George Pataki's decision to divert violent sex offenders into mental institutions after their prison terms ended was an abuse of power or a well-intended effort to protect the public.

The program initiated in 2005 was a "sham" attempt to "bypass the Constitution," plaintiffs' attorney Reza Rezvani said in closing arguments at a civil trial in federal court in Manhattan. "You know that the Constitution applies to everybody. ... No one is saying don't lock up the bad guys. But you do it right and you're fair."

Pataki's attorney, Abbe Lowell, told the jury of one man and seven women that what's most shocking about the lawsuit brought by six convicted sex offenders who were eventually freed is "what the plaintiffs did, not what the defendants did."

The plaintiffs "were mentally ill and dangerous and should have been committed," Lowell added as Pataki listened nearby from the defense table.

The case stems from Pataki's effort to use existing laws to direct prison officials to have the worst sex offenders evaluated for involuntary civil commitment once released from prison. The practice was halted in 2006 after a state court found that the 12 men who were committed should have been entitled to hearings before it happened. Some remained in psychiatric institutions for years afterward.

The summations Monday followed nearly three weeks of testimony, including that of plaintiffs who served lengthy prison sentences for sex assaults on minors. One, Louis Massei, testified that once committed to psychiatric care, he and the other convicts were never given any treatment.

"We were separated from the other patients," Massei said. "We were treated like 'the experiment.'"

Pataki testified he used his executive authority only to order evaluations of sex offenders before they were freed, not to rob them of liberty. Defense lawyers noted that of the nearly 800 inmates examined, fewer than 200 were committed to mental institutions.

The jury must decide whether the defendants intentionally deprived the plaintiffs of constitutional rights and, if so, determine potential damages. Deliberations were expected to begin as early as Monday afternoon. ..Source.. by Wall Street Journal

NY ex-governor testifies at sex-offender trial

7-23-2013 New York:

Defending himself Tuesday against a lawsuit, former New York Gov. George Pataki described a creepy stranger who joined a family hike nearly two decades ago as a major catalyst in his crusade to institutionalize violent sexual predators.

Pataki told about the episode in Hudson Highlands State Park near his Peekskill birthplace as he explained to a federal jury in Manhattan why he became interested in ridding the streets of violent sex offenders soon after he became governor in 1995.

The 68-year-old Pataki is a defendant in a civil lawsuit filed by six convicted sex offenders who said their constitutional rights were violated when a Pataki-initiated program in 2005 caused them to be transferred indefinitely to psychiatric centers when their prison terms ended. A state court ruled a year later that the program was illegal, but the men remained institutionalized for years.

The three-term Republican governor said he was hiking with his wife, a son and several neighborhood children in 1995 or 1996 when he noticed a stranger was constantly near them and would "walk right out and stand next to the kids."

He telephoned state police troopers on security detail nearby and they learned he had been convicted of sexual crimes in the Rochester area.

"My family was fine. I had troopers, but I couldn't help but think of a mother on a walk in the park with a child, or a child at a playground, and it just made me personally aware not just of the horrors of these crimes, but the immediacy of the possibility," Pataki said.

Pataki said he tried unsuccessfully for years to get the state legislature to pass a law that would let violent sexual predators be evaluated for possible involuntary institutionalization at the end of their prison terms. He said a Democratic assemblyman and a prosecutor were among those in 2005 who suggested it could be done under existing law.

He said he was determined to develop the program after a newly paroled rapist killed a woman in 2005 in a suburban mall parking lot and then told investigators that he was angry he had to register as a sex offender and was not getting mental health treatment from Westchester County that he thought he deserved.

Repeatedly, Pataki testified he began the program that put more than 100 convicted prisoners into psychiatric institutions only after he was advised existing law allowed it.

U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff told jurors the initiative was unconstitutional and they must determine whether the defendants acted with intent to deprive the plaintiffs of constitutional rights.

Before Pataki told about his family's hike, attorneys for the plaintiffs objected.

"I think this is, to be frank, the price you pay by asking for punitive damages," Rakoff said. "It opens up a very broad scope of relevance."

Pataki, himself a lawyer, insisted he knew little specifics of the program when he announced in October 2005 that every sexually violent predator in state custody would be evaluated for involuntary civil commitment once prison sentences were finished.

The practice was halted in late 2006 after the state court ruling.

About 20 states now allow certain sex offenders to be detained at psychiatric facilities after their sentences are served if they have a mental disorder that would make them more likely to offend again.

Pataki said he wanted to rid society of the effects of "particularly heinous crimes" because rape and molestation tend to plague victims throughout life and because he was advised that sexually violent criminals have a high rate of recidivism.

"Anybody's hopes or dreams can vanish in a minute in an act of violence," he said. ..Source.. by Arizona Daily Star

Washington AG tried to prevent release of convicted sex predator

7-25-2013 Washington:

Washington's attorney general is trying to prevent the prison release of a convicted pedophile who has committed more than 100 offenses against young girls.

Stephen Robinson, 56, is scheduled to be released from the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla on Friday.

But Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Robinson remains a threat and should be held indefinitely at the state's Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island.

"Mr. Robinson has admitted to more than 100 heinous assaults on young girls and must not be released into our community," Ferguson said in a press release.

Robinson was convicted of sexually violent offenses against young girls in Benton County in 1984 and in Colorado in 1999. He told authorities that he would seek out and attack other young girls if released, Ferguson said.

The attorney general's office filed a petition Tuesday in Benton County Superior Court, a first step in seeking a civil commitment. A probable cause hearing could be held as early as Friday. If probable cause is found, Robinson will be transported to the Special Commitment Center pending trial.

The unit was established in 1990 following enactment of the state's sexually violent predator law, which permits the involuntary civil commitment of sex offenders who are likely to commit acts of sexual violence if released to the community.

As of April, there were 296 sexually violent predators civilly committed in Washington state.

The Tri-City Herald reported Wednesday that Robinson was convicted in 1984 in Benton County of indecent liberties after a 3-year-old girl reported to her father that her crotch area hurt and described abuse by Robinson.

"By Robinson's own current admission, he was having sexual intercourse with the toddler within days of meeting her, and that the molestations/rapes lasted more than six months," according to court document.

Robinson also was convicted of sexual assault of a child in Denver County, Colo., 15 years later. That case involved a 9-year-old girl who he gained access to through her prostitute mother, court documents said.

"Robinson traded sex with the girl for some drugs for the mother. He had done this before and had frequented prostitutes that had daughters between (the ages of) 4 and 8 for this purpose," the documents said. ..Source.. by Nicholas K. Geranios

Texas sex offender gets life for civil commitment violations

7-10-2013 Texas:

A district court in Montgomery County is the only venue in Texas to decide felony civil commitment cases for violent sexual predators. The presiding judge said all sexual assault and other violent offenders who passed through the court were given maximum penalties.

Sex predators are described under the Texas Sexually Violent Predator Act as repeat offenders with behavior abnormalities. Predatory offenses include aggravated sexual assault and sexually-motivated burglary, kidnapping and murder. A violent sex offender is committed to an outpatient treatment program indefinitely or until behavior patterns noticeably change.

A 56-year-old Texas man recently was sentenced to life imprisonment for violating civil commitment terms at a Ft. Worth halfway house. Parole eligibility is possible within 15 years.

The defendant was convicted of two knifepoint rapes in 1982. He was sentenced to two, concurrent 25-year prison terms. Within a year of early release, the man was arrested and later convicted for trying to kidnap a child at a store.

The man was returned to prison until 2000, when he was granted permission to move out of state. The sex offender later served a three-year term for indecent exposure.

After extradition and imprisonment for parole violations, the offender was set free in Texas during 2004. He was imprisoned on a pornography charge in 2005 and officially designated a violent sex offender in 2009.

The outcome for the repeat offender was similar to convictions for two other men in the same court. Maximum prison sentences were handed down in 2012 for known sex predators who broke Texas halfway house rules.

The state civil commitment statute recognizes some sex offenders suffer from conditions that predispose them to violent sexual behavior. Court-ordered outpatient treatment is geared toward helping individuals overcome violent sexual tendencies that are out of their control.

Consequences for sex crimes convictions are severe. A lifetime of penalties and treatment is possible for suspects charged with violent sexual behavior. ..Source.. by On behalf of Terry W. Yates & Associates posted in Sex Crimes on Tuesday, February 26, 2013.

State tries to block release of inmate who attacked over 100 young girls

7-24-2013 Washington:

BENTON COUNTY, Wash. -- Washington's attorney general is trying to prevent the prison release of a convicted pedophile who has committed more than 100 offenses against young girls.

Stephen Robinson, 56, is scheduled to be released from the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla on Friday.

But Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Robinson remains a threat and should be held indefinitely at the state's Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island.

"Mr. Robinson has admitted to more than 100 heinous assaults on young girls and must not be released into our community," Ferguson said in a press release.

Robinson was convicted of sexually violent offenses against young girls in Benton County in 1984 and in Colorado in 1999. He told authorities that he would seek out and attack other young girls if released, Ferguson said.

The attorney general's office filed a petition Tuesday in Benton County Superior Court, a first step in seeking a civil commitment. A probable cause hearing could be held as early as Friday. If probable cause is found, Robinson will be transported to the Special Commitment Center pending trial.

The unit was established in 1990 following enactment of the state's sexually violent predator law, which permits the involuntary civil commitment of sex offenders who are likely to commit acts of sexual violence if released to the community.

As of April, there were 296 sexually violent predators civilly committed in Washington state.

The Tri-City Herald reported Wednesday that Robinson was convicted in 1984 in Benton County of indecent liberties after a 3-year-old girl reported to her father that her crotch area hurt and described abuse by Robinson.

"By Robinson's own current admission, he was having sexual intercourse with the toddler within days of meeting her, and that the molestations/rapes lasted more than six months," according to court document.

Robinson also was convicted of sexual assault of a child in Denver County, Colo., 15 years later. That case involved a 9-year-old girl who he gained access to through her prostitute mother, court documents said.

"Robinson traded sex with the girl for some drugs for the mother. He had done this before and had frequented prostitutes that had daughters between (the ages of) 4 and 8 for this purpose," the documents said. ..Source.. by KEPRTV.com Staff

New Documents Released on Donald Smith, accused killer of 8 year old Cherish Perrywinkle

7-24-2013 Florida:

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The three white crosses in the Perrywinkle's front yard are a daily reminder of 8-year-old Cherish.

But the crush of information concerning Donald Smith, her accused killer, has made it hard for the family to remember her in peace.

New documents released by the Department of Children and Families show Smith refused to participate in his own treatment several times and declined to be interviewed or attend therapy.

In prison, Smith was constantly in trouble.

Documents show he lied to prison officials, and was found in possession of narcotics and other contraband.

His answers to prison officials changed by the day.

At one point he told a psychologist he had "no comment" about whether or not he had violent sexual fantasies.

Asked 4 months later, Smith said, "not anymore, I don't."

Explaining why he didn't want to participate in treatment while incarcerated, he said, "this program will never touch the type of modalities I've been through."

In 2006, a team of psychologists determined he did not meet the criteria to be locked up in the state's treatment facility for violent sexual offenders, in part, because he refused to be interviewed.

When he was released, a court agreement shows that he was scheduled to receive Depo-Lupron shots to chemically castrate him.

The documents do not show if he actually followed through with the treatment, and DCF said that's medically privileged information.

While the new information might shed some light on Donald Smith, Cherish's mother's boyfriend says it won't bring their little girl back. ..Source.. by Kaitlyn Ross

Ex-NY governor’s testimony set in trial where sex offenders say their rights were violated

7-23-2013 New York:

Former New York Gov. George Pataki is expected to testify about how more than 100 sex offenders came to be involuntarily institutionalized eight years ago when they finished prison sentences.

Tuesday’s testimony comes in a civil trial in Manhattan federal court after six convicted sex offenders sued Pataki and the state. Pataki announced in an October 2005 press release that every sexually violent predator in state custody would be evaluated for involuntary civil commitment once a prison sentence was finished.

A year later, the program was discontinued after a state court ruled the state was wrongly confining convicted sex offenders in psychiatric facilities. Pataki lawyer Abbe Lowell has urged jurors to award the plaintiffs nothing, saying his client acted honorably to protect the public. ..Source.. by Washington Post

Most civilly detained sex offenders would not reoffend, study finds

7-21-2013 National:

Other new research finds further flaws with actuarial methods in forensic practice

At least three out of every four men being indefinitely detained as Sexually Violent Predators in Minnesota would never commit another sex crime if they were released.

That’s the conclusion of a new study by the chief researcher for the Department of Corrections in Minnesota, the state with the highest per capita rate of preventive detention in the United States.

Using special statistical procedures and a new actuarial instrument called the MnSOST-3 that is better calibrated to current recidivism rates, Grant Duwe estimated that the recidivism rate for civilly committed sex offenders -- if released -- would be between about 5 and 16 percent over four years, and about 18 percent over their lifetimes. Only two of the 600 men detained since Minnesota's law was enacted have been released, making hollow the law's promise of rehabilitation after treatment.

Duwe -- a criminologist and author of a book on the history of mass murder in the United States -- downplays the troubling Constitutional implications of this finding, focusing instead on the SVP law’s exorbitant costs and weak public safety benefits. He notes that "Three Strikes" laws, enacted in some U.S. states during the same time period as SVP laws based on a similar theory of selective incapacitation of the worst of the worst, have also not had a significant impact on crime rates.

The problem for the field of forensic psychology is that forensic risk assessment procedures have astronomical rates of false positives, or over-predictions of danger, and it is difficult to determine which small proportion of those predicted to reoffend would actually do so.

Minnesota has taken the lead in civilly detaining men with sex crime convictions, despite the state's only middling crime rates. Unlike in most U.S. states with SVP laws, sex offenders referred for possible detention are not entitled to a jury trial and, once detained, do not have a right to periodic reviews. Detention also varies greatly by county, so geographic locale can make the difference between a lifetime behind bars and a chance to move on with life after prison.

Ironically, as noted by other researchers, by the time an offender has done enough bad deeds to be flagged for civil commitment, his offending trajectory is often on the decline. Like other criminals, sex offenders tend to age out of criminality by their 40s, making endless incarceration both pointless and wasteful.

The study, To what extent does civil commitment reduce sexual recidivism? Estimating the selective incapacitation effects in Minnesota, is forthcoming from the Journal of Criminal Justice. ..Source.. by Karen Franklin, In the News

Report: Allegations of abuse at NY (Civil Commitment) facility under scrutiny

7-21-2013 New York:

A series of injuries to civilly committed sex offenders has prompted state scrutiny of allegations of staff abuse against the confined residents at a New York facility, a state report shows.

Between August 2011 and January 2012, the staff emergency squad — called the Red Dot Team — was accused by confined sex offenders of abuse in 22 instances of “physical intervention” at the state facility, according to a report from the state Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities.

That facility, located in Marcy near Utica, houses about 180 sex offenders who have been released from prison but, through a mental health process, judged too dangerous to allow back into communities. The facility’s Red Dot Team is summoned for confrontations with residents that could escalate.

While the commission report is more than a year old, it sparked a back-and-forth between the commission and the state Office of Mental Health that continued well into this year, records show. The Office of Mental Health, or OMH, oversees the state programs for civilly confined sex offenders, who undergo treatment with the goal of their safe release.

“While we share your concerns regarding patient/resident safety, inevitably during these occurrences, injuries may occur to both patients/residents and staff given that the event has resulted in physical contact,” OMH Forensics Services Associate Commissioner Donna Hall wrote in an April letter to Commission on Quality of Care officials.

In recent years, offenders at the Marcy facility — the Central New York Psychiatric Center, or CNYPC — have claimed to the Democrat and Chronicle and some lawyers that they were physically abused by staff.

OMH officials respond that injuries came in incidents initiated by the residents who required physical restraint.

Records show that many more “interventions” with residents end peacefully, not requiring some manner of restraint, Hall wrote to commission officials in April.

“These data indicate that a vast number of interventions are undertaken to, whenever possible, prevent Red Dot emergency responses, restraints and possible risk of injuries to patients/residents,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, there are times when less restrictive interventions are attempted and the situation does not de-escalate, thus requiring Red Dot emergency responses and subsequent restraints.”

OMH declined to comment on the Commission on Quality of Care report, referring to its responses to the commission.

This is not the first time that allegations of abuse have been leveled at CNYPC workers.

In December 2011, officials with the state’s Mental Hygiene Legal Service office also questioned whether there was “a pattern of abusive behavior by Central New York Psychiatric Center staff.”

Those letters to OMH officials were obtained by the Democrat and Chronicle.

Whether the MHLS allegations were the impetus for the sweeping review by the Commission on Quality of Care review of abuse allegations at CNYPC is unclear.

As with allegations of prison abuse, separating fact from fabrication can be difficult with the CNYPC claims. And there is another layer making it tough to determine the truth behind the allegations: Civilly confined sex offenders are psychiatric patients in state facilities, meaning that much of what happens in the facilities is shielded from public scrutiny by privacy regulations.

OMH, in fact, will not even acknowledge whether particular offenders are in the facilities.

One CNYPC resident once sent a photograph to the Democrat and Chronicle of another resident’s severely bruised and swollen face, injuries alleged to have resulted from a beating by staff. The injured resident, however, was charged with a crime, accused of starting a physical altercation with OMH staff.

The commission report notes injuries suffered by CNYPC residents during confrontations with the Red Dot Team.

In one incident, a sex offender suffered bruises, contusions, bruised left and right ribs, and a swollen cheek, the report states. according to a state report.

In another incident, an offender was left with “superficial abrasion at both elbows, behind the left ear, (and) abrasion with discoloration at right lower leg,” according to the report.

The Commission on Quality of Care now no longer exists, subsumed last month into a newly created state agency, the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs. Justice Center officials did not respond to requests for comment on the report from the former Commission on Quality of Care.

The report from the Commission on Quality of Care also:

• Questioned the lack of specific information in CNYPC reports on staff-patient confrontations.

• Maintained that residents were reluctant to report allegations to the commission “as they believe they will be retaliated against by staff.”

• Said internal investigations of alleged abuse were hindered because of delays by residents in reporting the allegations.

• Questioned whether the Red Dot Team was utilized for non-emergency interventions, such as with incidents logged in formal reports as “verbal assault.” ..Source.. by Gary Craig

New York Civil Commitment Review

Audits: 7-21-2013 New York:

Source: Commission on Quality of Care for Persons with Disabilities

See news report for description of findings.

DCF to review criteria for sexually violent offenders program after Cherish Perrywinkle death

7-19-2013 Florida:

The Florida Department of Children and Families will review its criteria for which sex offenders should be held in civil commitment, almost a month after a Jacksonville man was charged with the kidnapping and murder of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle.

Dan Montaldi, administrator of the state’s sexually violent predator program, said procedures are reviewed when it is learned that someone evaluated in the program has been re-arrested. Donald James Smith’s arrest on June 22 was a high-profile example, he said, and studies published in the last year have also raised questions about the effectiveness of the psychological assessment tool used in evaluating offenders for continued confinement as they are scheduled to be released from prison.

“It’s important for us to look at all our programs to make sure we’re keeping everyone safe, particularly children in our state,” Montaldi said.

The department will convene a team of experts to review the tools it uses to determine whether a sex offender leaving prison should be held under the Sexually Violent Predator Program, better known as the Jimmy Ryce Act, DCF press secretary Whitney Ray said in a statement.

Professional journals have discussed the evaluation tools used by the state to decide whether a person with a criminal history of sexual offenses is likely to be dangerous, according to the statement. The review team will deliver findings on the Static-99R tool by Sept. 23.

Montaldi said the evaluation tool is just one part of a comprehensive review, and different studies have found varied recidivism rates in cases where the predictive tool was used.


Records provided to the Times-Union Friday show that Smith declined treatment several times before he was released from prison — apparently even during his time in the Florida Civil Commitment Center in Arcadia.

Smith’s first evaluation under the Jimmy Ryce Act stemmed from 1992, when police said Smith tried to lure a 13-year-old girl into his van in Jacksonville. He chased her into a park, and later that day showed pornography to children. He served almost five years before getting paroled in 1997, but returned to prison on a parole violation.

He was held in civil commitment for three years. Clinical records were not released due to medical privacy laws (HIPAA), but Smith refused to attend a meeting or sign a consent form to receive treatment at the commitment center two weeks before prosecutors dropped the civil case in 2002. He was never taken to trial. The court ordered him to seek his own treatment.

He was sent back to state prison in 2004 for dealing in stolen property. Records from Smith’s file show that each time he entered a prison facility, he declined treatment.

Smith is quoted in a 2005 report as saying, “This program wouldn’t be able to touch the [treatment] modalities I’ve been through.” He refused to talk about his current offenses, and when asked if he believed he had a problem with sexual thoughts or behavior, he said, “Not anymore I don’t.”

In 2006, when he was scheduled for release, records show an evaluator said Smith did not meet the criteria to be committed as a violent sexual offender.

Records show that during that evaluation, Smith declined to be interviewed. ..Source.. by Kate Howard Perry

Juvenile Sex Offenders: Locked Up for Life?

10-1-2012 South Carolina:

Medical experts raise questions about indefinite civil commitment for troubled youths

At 21, Thomas Simmons has spent nearly half his life in confinement.

When he was 13, Simmons was sent to a juvenile detention center for raping and sexually abusing a younger relative over a period of years. When he was 17, Simmons became the youngest person indefinitely committed to South Carolina’s adult violent sex offender treatment program, according to court testimony.

The government initially placed Simmons in a restricted wing and assigned a staff member to stay with him to protect him from the other residents, many of them middle-aged child molesters, a program psychologist testified earlier this year.

Four years after his civil commitment, Simmons is asking the South Carolina Supreme Court to order his release. Though experts for the state Attorney General’s Office say Simmons is still dangerous, a psychologist at the sex offender commitment center testified at a court hearing earlier this year that Simmons has not shown signs of sexually violent behavior since before he was 13, and should be released.

“Thomas was at best 11 years old when he committed his crime; he was a child,” said Brana Williams, Simmons’s attorney.

“And now he may be locked up for the rest of his life. This is why they say you should not get life without parole when you’re that young. You’re not who you’re going to be.”

At least 10 states allow some form of juvenile sex offender civil commitment, according to research compiled by the Defender Association of Philadelphia. In four of those states, at least 52 adults—not including Simmons—are currently indefinitely committed as sex offenders as a result of crimes they committed when they were juveniles, state departments of corrections and mental health said in response to inquiries from JJIE.

‘He was a kid’: Former juvenile sex offenders languish in MSOP

10-5-2012 Minnesota:

Timothy Coon could spend his whole life confined to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program for actions he committed as a juvenile. And there are more than 50 others like him inside the walls of MSOP.

On May 5, 2001, Lucy Coon discovered her 15-year-old son, Timothy, inside the family’s van with his 9-year-old sister. His pants were around his knees and he had a visible erection. Under questioning, he admitted that he had been sexually molesting his sister.

Timothy was immediately pulled out of the family home. He was eventually ruled delinquent after being charged with criminal sexual conduct in the juvenile court system and ordered to Mille Lacs Academy for sex offender treatment. He was kicked out of the program after seven months because he lacked motivation, misbehaved and argued with staff.

Over the next three years, Coon cycled through juvenile treatment facilities, making little headway in various programs. His progress was stymied, in part, by symptoms from what was eventually diagnosed as Asperger Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder characterized by extreme difficulties with social interaction.

One week before his 19th birthday, he was referred by the Anoka County Attorney’s Office for civil commitment as mentally ill and dangerous, a sexual psychopathic personality and a sexually dangerous person.

During the civil court hearing to determine whether he would be involuntarily detained, other episodes of Timothy Coon’s sexual misconduct were detailed. According to court documents, he admitted molesting both of his younger sisters on multiple occasions going back to when he was just eight years old. In addition, he acknowledged sexual offenses against two younger boys in his neighborhood and a years-long habit of attempting to view children urinating in public bathrooms.

In September 2005, following a two-day trial, Anoka County District Court Judge Edward Bearse ordered that Coon be civilly committed. Judge Bearse was blunt in his assessment of his prospects for being rehabilitated and released. “It would be safe to predict, after evaluating Respondent’s history in other treatment programs, that Respondent may not be responsive to treatment,” Bearse wrote in his order. “It would also probably be safe to say that Respondent has a very, very minute chance of successfully graduating from the Minnesota Sex Offender’s Program, but who knows — anything is possible.”

Bearse’s order has proven prescient. Seven years later, Coon remains indefinitely detained at the Minnesota Sex Offender Program. He has yet to complete the initial phase of the treatment program and isn’t currently participating in therapy.

When her son was first institutionalized at age 15, Lucy Coon viewed it with relief. Dealing with such a severely troubled child had caused tremendous stress. The family had taken extraordinary measures to try to control his behavior, including the installation of motion detectors in the house to help monitor his movements. Lucy felt like she had neglected her two daughters because of the constant attention Timothy required.

“I was a frantic mother,” Lucy recalled. “Mostly I just wanted help for him … I wanted something, someone who might be able to diagnose him correctly, to help him correctly. That’s what we were hoping.”

Even Timothy’s commitment to the MSOP was initially viewed with weary resignation. “We were more worried about him hurting himself or somebody else,” Lucy Coon recalls. “What do we do to keep him safe? Because we didn’t want him to go to prison. In the prison system, we knew that he would become a victim … We didn’t feel we had too much of a choice.”

But seven years later, Lucy and other family members are exasperated by the exceedingly bleak prospect that Timothy, who is now 26 years old, will ever get the opportunity to live a life outside of the prison-like setting of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program. They are convinced that there are less-restrictive settings where he could receive more appropriate treatment and present little threat to public safety. They also worry about how more than a decade of institutionalization has permanently altered him.

“I see discouragement,” said Abby Dawkins, Timothy’s grandmother. “He says, ‘You know, Grandma, there’s a guy up here who sits in a wheelchair and drools all the time, and I feel like that’s what my life is going to be.’ And that’s pretty painful to hear.”

Long festering troubles for the MSOP

Minnesota has the highest per capita rate of civilly committed sex offenders in the country. Currently there are more than 650 individuals indefinitely detained as sexual deviants who cannot control their behavior. The program’s population has more than tripled over the past nine years, since the grisly murder of Dru Sjodin by a convicted sex offender released on parole, and is expected to double again in the next decade. (See related post)

No one was released from the program during the next eight-plus years. It wasn’t until this year that the program provisionally released one offender, a 64-year-old pedophile named Clarence Opheim, back into the community. That lack of success at rehabilitating and releasing MSOP clients has caused increasing concern in recent years that the state is walking a dangerous legal tightrope.

“We in the Legislature, or by us writing law, seem to give someone that’s incarcerated in a civil commitment for sex offender actions an impression that they will get out if they can earn the cure, and we don’t have a track record of letting people out,” said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, chair of the Judiciary Committee. “If that’s a false impression, a court could come to the conclusion that that’s illegal.”

The troubles attending the MSOP are well documented, most thoroughly in a critical report by the Office of the Legislative Auditor released in 2011. What’s never been explored is the disturbing number of individuals like Timothy Coon who have no adult criminal convictions but are nonetheless being indefinitely detained. Currently there are 52 individuals enrolled in the MSOP who meet this description — roughly 8 percent of its entire population. These individuals are potentially facing a de facto life sentence despite never having been convicted of a crime as an adult.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders on the grounds that it constituted cruel and unusual punishment. The treatment of juveniles civilly committed as sexual deviants in Minnesota seems to raise similar constitutional and moral concerns.

“It is an outrage,” said Eric Janus, dean of the William Mitchell College of Law and an expert on the civil commitment of sex offenders. “The problem with it is that we know that civil commitment is, at this stage, tantamount to life imprisonment. So these are people who, based on behavior that they exhibited as adolescents, are most likely going to be locked up for life. And that’s unconscionable.”

Treatment program: A history of upheaval

There are four phases in the current treatment scheme at the MSOP. Just over half of the individuals enrolled in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program remain in the first phase, which consists solely of learning the rules of the program and basic treatment concepts. It’s not until the second phase that clients are expected to discuss their history of sexual misconduct and come to understand their patterns of abuse. Both phase one and phase two take place at a facility in Moose Lake, and nearly 80 percent of the total MSOP population are currently in one or the other.

The third stage of treatment, known as MSOP Supervised Integration, takes place at a facility in St. Peter and involves accompanied excursions on and off campus. In the final phase of treatment, known as Community Preparation Services (CPS), clients gradually gain more privileges and live independently — but still within the secure St. Peter Campus. Currently just nine individuals are enrolled in the CPS program. Another 93 clients, including Timothy Coon, are not currently participating in treatment.

Michael Miner, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Program in Human Sexuality, says part of the problem lies with a history of turbulence within the MSOP. “There has been a great deal of instability in the leadership of the clinical programs,” Miner said. “Every time there’s been a change in leadership, there’s been a change in the program, and that influences people’s ability to progress.”

This assessment is backed up by the Legislative Auditor’s report. Since 2003 the MSOP has had four different clinical directors and four executive directors. The current clinical director, Jannine Hebert, has been on the job since 2008. The program has also been hampered by insufficient clinical staff to provide adequate treatment. The auditor’s report found that clinicians at the MSOP have up to 25 different clients at a given time. By contrast, clinicians at Wisconsin’s civil commitment program for sex offenders, which routinely releases clients, handle approximately eight clients each.

Christopher Lee remains in phase one of treatment after seven years in the MSOP. Lee has never been convicted of a sex crime as a juvenile or an adult. At the age of 14, he was found delinquent by a juvenile court after being charged with multiple counts of theft and arson and ordered to Bar None Residential Treatment Services in Anoka for therapy. Over the next three years, he bounced between treatment facilities and juvenile detention centers.

As part of his treatment, Lee acknowledged various acts of sexual misconduct, according to court records. He was caught attempting to copy his penis on a copying machine while at a therapy session and sent sexually harassing letters to girls at his school. More seriously, Lee acknowledged molesting his younger step-brother and multiple instances of public exposure. Lee has an extra partial Y chromosome, which often causes hyper-sexuality. He was also born with significant vision loss in his left eye and hearing loss in his left ear, and has a slightly asymmetrical face.
At the age of 17, Lee was provided a chance to prove he could live in society without committing additional crimes. He was ordered to Mapletree, a group home in Maplewood for teenagers who have severe behavioral problems, including many who have committed sex offenses.

“Most of these guys are here for one of two reasons: It’s their last opportunity to avoid a secure corrections placement, or it’s their first opportunity after completing a treatment program to reenter the community,” said Jon Brandt, the director of Mapletree and a licensed social worker. “So we catch kids right on that edge, either on their way deeper into the system or this is their first opportunity to show that they can put together the skills to be successful in the community.”

During his four months at Mapletree, Lee went over that edge. While on a volunteer assignment at the Salvation Army, Lee exposed himself to a four-year-old girl in the toy aisle of the thrift store. He wasn’t charged with a crime, but his probation was revoked. He was removed from Mapletree and sent to the juvenile detention center in Red Wing. While there, he had consensual sex with another detainee, a violation of the facility’s rules. When Lee was about to age out of the juvenile system, the Dakota County Attorney’s Office moved to have him civilly committed to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.

A pair of mental health experts examined Lee to determine whether he met the criteria. They rendered something of a split decision. Each determined that Lee did not meet the definition of a sexual psychopathic personality, but did qualify as a sexually dangerous person. Based on that assessment, he was ordered into the MSOP.

The evidence used to commit Lee consisted almost entirely of misconduct that he confessed to during various treatment programs. Warren Maas, executive director of Project Pathfinder, one of the largest sex offender treatment programs in the state, points out that it’s not uncommon for teenagers to act out sexually in ways that could be construed as criminal behavior. “If we committed every kid that was fairly randy, we would have a pretty full program,” Maas said. “So the only distinguishing factor between these guys and a lot of their peers is the fact that at some point they were put in a residential facility that documented what they did.”

Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom defends the use of civil commitment against offenders who lack adult criminal convictions, and specifically his office’s decision to seek MSOP enrollment for Lee. He points out that the Minnesota Court of Appeals reviewed Lee’s case, as it does in all commitment proceedings against sex offenders, and determined that the outcome was legally sound. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s been given full due process in this matter and I think he’s been appropriately dealt with,” Backstrom said.

Lee is now 26 years old and has spent half his life in institutions. He acknowledges that he hasn’t always been a cooperative patient. “I had a lot of problems with managing my emotions, staying cool under pressure, and overall just a really negative attitude for a great extent of my stay,” Lee said during an interview at the Moose Lake facility. “Recently I’ve tried to work hard on being able to find positives out of nothing and try to motivate myself to bigger and better things.”

But Lee’s efforts to advance beyond the initial phase of treatment, as he describes it, have repeatedly been stymied. Initially, treatment staff asked him to work on managing the angry tone in his voice. Then they directed him to improve his social interactions with staff and other clients. Most recently, he was told that he needed to behave more consistently. “It’s like they set this expectation of what they want,” Lee said, “and when you meet that expectation, they want to add more to it and make it more and more difficult for people to move.”

Other clients interviewed for this article expressed similar frustrations. Christopher Jackson is a 33-year-old MSOP client who was first institutionalized for violent behavior at the age of nine. He was raped by four older boys while in that first treatment program, according to court records. After his release, he eventually started molesting his younger brother and other kids in his Coon Rapids neighborhood. Jackson has been continuously institutionalized since he was 12 years old, and remains in phase one of the MSOP treatment program.

“I’ve pretty much been in the same loop since I’ve been here,” he said. “They develop a program, you move along in it, [and] once they get a lot of people to move forward, then they redo the program again.”

Lincoln Brown has been in the MSOP for 17 years after initially being institutionalized at age 17, in part for molesting a female relative. He too remains in phase one of the treatment program.
“It’s a vacuum,” Brown said. “It’s like a black hole. It’s a box for people, and no one’s gotten out of it, and I feel that every day that I’m here.” Brown acknowledges that part of the reason that he’s failed to advance in treatment is that he resists complying with treatment decrees that he often finds bewildering. “I tell them I hate what you’re doing,” Brown said. “I hate that this has gone on so long and not one person has really been supported by you, if you’re a therapist, to be set free. How is that true? How is that possible?”

Brandt has kept in touch with Christopher Lee during the decade since he was removed from Mapletree for exposing himself, and he recently attended Lee’s annual review at the Moose Lake facility.“I would describe him as trying to make the best of the circumstance that he’s in, but he’s profoundly discouraged,” said Brandt. “He recognizes the craziness of therapeutic goals that you can never complete, but you have to talk about them every week and keep working toward them as if there is some measurable process happening, when there isn’t.”

Brandt has worked with dozens of juvenile sex offenders in the 21 years that he’s run Mapletree. He finds it ludicrous that Lee remains in the first phase of treatment, where he’s not even expected to discuss his history of sexual misbehavior. “These are things that Chris was doing for years before he came to Mapletree,” Brandt said. “And suggesting that he can’t start talking about his sexual history because he hasn’t, in six years, demonstrated sufficient capacity to talk about his feelings — it doesn’t pass the laugh test.”

Supreme Court rulings on juvenile offenders

Civil commitment programs for sex offenders have been repeatedly upheld by the courts as constitutional. In a pair of landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases more than a decade ago, such programs were deemed not to constitute double jeopardy or to violate individuals’ due-process rights. That’s principally because the programs are deemed therapeutic in nature and therefore are not subject to the legal safeguards of the criminal justice system. The involuntary detainees at facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter, in other words, are patients, not prisoners.

But in recent years, there have also been a series of rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court delineating the view that juvenile offenders must be treated differently from their adult counterparts. That’s in large part because juvenile offenders are subject to changes in brain chemistry that can dramatically affect their decision-making and propensity toward impulsive behavior.

In 2005, the country’s top court prohibited the death penalty for juvenile offenders as cruel and unusual punishment. “The reality that juveniles still struggle to define their identity means it is less supportable to conclude that even a heinous crime committed by a juvenile is evidence of irretrievably depraved character,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. “From a moral standpoint it would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult, for a greater possibility exists that a minor’s character deficiencies will be reformed.”

Earlier this year, citing similar reasoning, the court further established a ban on mandatory life without parole sentences for juvenile offenders.

While those cases aren’t legally pertinent to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, since it’s outside the purview of criminal courts, many experts in civil commitment say the underlying argument is the same. “At a policy, ethical, moral level, yes, it is relevant to raise it,” said William Mitchell’s Eric Janus. “At a legal level, probably not. And here’s the reason: The question before the Supreme Court is whether life without parole is cruel and unusual punishment. If civil commitment is punishment, then it’s illegal. It doesn’t need to be cruel and unusual to be illegal. [But] the lifelong aspect of it is not, per se, improper. What’s improper is that the whole system is corrupt and broken and isn’t working the way it should.”

Tamara Rice Lave, a law professor at the University of Miami who has written extensively about sex offender civil commitment programs, reaches a similar conclusion. “The reason why the court made the decision it made is because of social science data,” Lave said. “It seems really weird to think, okay, social science data drove the court to say that murderers can’t get life without possibility of parole. That same social science data should certainly be used with kids who commit a sex crime. Impulsivity is driving people who kill and people who have sex. It’s the same juvenile brain that’s not in great development. It’s weird to think that you can then commit somebody indefinitely and not pay any attention to the brain science stuff.”

Well-established research shows that brain development continues at least into a person’s mid-20s. The last part of the brain to reach maturity is the frontal lobe, which is responsible for functions like impulse control and moral reasoning. Those are the very traits that tend to be deficient in juveniles who engage in sexual misconduct.

“That’s where all of the executive functioning resides,” said Michael Miner of the University of Minnesota’s Program in Human Sexuality. “Our ability to delay gratification — the whole idea of impulsivity, the ability to not act impulsively — this is the part of the brain that’s involved in all of that.”

That continuing development explains the often bewildering — and in some cases criminal — behavior exhibited by teenagers. “That’s why adolescence is a time where there’s more delinquent behavior, there’s more risk-taking behavior,” Miner said. “We adults look at what our adolescent children do and shake our heads and wonder where their brains are at.”

Robert Longo, a licensed clinical counselor who has worked extensively with juvenile sex offenders, explains the relevance of brain development in similar terms. “You don’t want to be comparing adults to juvenile sex offenders, because it’s apples to oranges,” Longo said. “Kids are kids. The research shows they’re still developing and that they don’t necessarily engage in these behaviors because they have a pedophilic or a paraphilic disorder.”

In response to questions from Capitol Report, MSOP executive clinical director Jannine Hebert offered a detailed written response about the challenges of dealing with younger sex offenders. “Not unlike other groups of clients at MSOP, the young adult sexual offenders are a heterogeneous group with individual needs and treatment plans,” Hebert wrote. “As a group, they have a higher frequency of developmentally traumatic experiences. Many, if not all, have a history that is replete with abuse (physical, sexual and emotional), neglect, higher levels of criminality than their peers, violence and substance abuse within their family, and hostile and insecure childhood environments.

“These experiences shape a person’s schemas, mental health and perspectives of others and their environments. It is not uncommon that these young adult offenders demonstrate problems controlling their impulses and anger, problems of low self-esteem, high rates of anxiety, less emotional bonding with peers, underdeveloped and ineffective social skills, and social isolation. Due to past behaviors, many of these clients have spent their formative years in and out of placements through corrections or human services. This has led to underdeveloped social skills and a sense of institutionalization.”

MSOP enrollees interviewed for this story insist that they have changed — mentally and emotionally — in the years since they engaged in juvenile sexual misconduct. “I’ve learned to take responsibility for my crimes,” said Christopher Jackson. “I did hurt my brother. I did hurt the people in the neighborhood. I didn’t have no permission to do what I did. I manipulated people into doing what I wanted. I’ve been able to be accountable for that.”

Lincoln Brown similarly expresses remorse for his sexual misconduct. “I feel shame for the things that I’ve done,” Brown said. “I try to understand what is it that the people I hurt feel. Those are very important things to me. I could go on and on about why that is, but I just don’t want to do them again. I want my freedom. I just want to live a good life. That’s really it. I want to live a good life, and I don’t want for others to be afraid of me.”

Lave sees a couple of avenues for possible legal challenges on behalf of individuals committed despite having no adult criminal record. She believes clients could challenge the criteria by which they were deemed dangerous, given the lack of reliable research showing whether juvenile sex offenders are likely to commit sex crimes as adults. Lave also sees room for a challenge on due process grounds, since juvenile offenders aren’t given the same legal protections as adult offenders.
“So these people were tried in one system that has one set of goals, and then that conviction holds over to have ramifications in a completely different system,” Lave said. “It’s troublesome because you’d think that if that’s what’s going to happen, that arguably they should be getting one heck of a lot more process rights.”

Prosecutors typically have a different viewpoint on whether the recent Supreme Court rulings are in any way relevant to the MSOP population. “I don’t disagree with the Supreme Court at all,” said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. “Kids deserve special hearings. For the very few, small, worst of the worst, I don’t think … how we’ve handled juveniles violates that Supreme Court language or spirit, because they do get reviewed. If they were in there forever and ever without review, that’s different.”

Dakota County’s Backstrom is slightly less categorical in his take on whether the Supreme Court rulings should be considered in discussing civil commitment of individuals with no adult criminal record. “They do not impact the civil commitment process in any respect at this point,” Backstrom said. “No such challenges have been ruled upon by the United States Supreme Court. Is it an area where there is potential future litigation? I suspect that may well be the case.”

Dealing with Asperger Syndrome

Like many civilly committed sex offenders, Timothy Coon has unique psychological challenges — most notably Asperger Syndrome — that make his progress in the program as currently configured highly unlikely. A frequent characteristic of Asperger Syndrome is impulsive behavior, and it’s not particularly unusual for that to manifest itself in sexual conduct.

Another frequent characteristic of Asperger Syndrome is socially inappropriate behavior and a lack of empathy for others. Family members say Timothy repeatedly sabotaged any chance of success in treatment programs through various acts of misbehavior since he was first institutionalized at age 15. He would disrupt group therapy sessions or simply go to sleep.

Robert Longo says Asperger Syndrome can cause serious impediments to engaging in treatment. “That’s another good reason why a kid like that shouldn’t necessarily be sentenced to a commitment, because that can change as he develops, the Asperger’s takes a different turn,” Longo said. “They don’t read people the same way. They may not know that being sexual with somebody is causing that person a problem.”

Coon is highly intelligent. He reads magazines like National Geographic, Popular Mechanics and Scientific American, and thrillers by the likes of Lee Child and Vince Flynn. His grandfather, Ken Dawkins, points out that if you describe to him a problem you’re having with your computer, he can likely tell you how to fix it — even though he’s never owned a computer as an adult.

“My mind, when it comes to information, is like a sponge,” Coon said during an interview at the Moose Lake facility. “I’ve probably got more treatment crammed in my head than some of the people who have been here for 20 years, because I retain the information. The problem is putting it into practice.”

For the last year, Coon hasn’t even bothered participating in treatment. “I got sick and tired of the staff who were running the group at the time,” Coon said of why he dropped out of treatment. “I was having a lot of conflicts with them. I decided that I’d rather just stop going than continue the conflicts I was having.”

But he also points to high turnover in the therapeutic staff as part of the problem. “I find it very hard to participate in a group where I don’t know the staff like I probably should,” Coon said. “I have a hard time opening up to people when I can’t trust them. If I can’t trust you, I’m not going to be telling you my intimate details, especially about offenses and stuff like that, because I don’t know if you’re going to use that against me or what.”

Warren Maas has a unique perspective on Coon’s situation. As an attorney he has represented roughly 30 sex offenders facing civil commitment, including Coon. Maas is also a licensed psychologist and has run Project Pathfinder, one of the largest sex offender treatment programs in the state, for the last six years.

“If you’re going to work with someone with Asperger’s, you need a specialized kind of program,” Maas said. He’s not at all surprised at Coon’s lack of success in MSOP’S treatment program. “It saddens me, but it doesn’t surprise me … He doesn’t have the skills to complete the program. He doesn’t have what he would need to get through a several decades long boot camp. He doesn’t have that.”

Predicting recidivism in juveniles

The field of research relating to juvenile sex offenders, and how likely they are to commit additional crimes, is itself still coming of age. Only in recent years have researchers and medical professionals spent significant amounts of time studying what causes juveniles to act out sexually — and what kinds of behavior suggest that they are likely to engage in further misconduct as adults.
Robert Longo is an editor of a forthcoming book, “Current Perspectives & Applications in Neurobiology: Working with Young Persons who are Victims and Perpetrators of Sexual Abuse,” that seeks to summarize the current scientific knowledge in this area. One chapter looks at the available data on how likely juveniles who engage in sexual misconduct are to reoffend. A 2006 study of 2,986 adolescents found that adolescents had a 12.5 percent re-offense rate over a 59-month period. But for those individuals who received sex-offender treatment, the re-offense rate dropped to 7.4 percent.

Similarly, a 2012 meta-analysis of studies looking at re-offense rates for more than 6,000 adolescent sex offenders, published in the academic journal Law and Human Behavior, found that 10.9 percent committed additional sex crimes during an average follow-up period of six years. “If you look at all these studies combined, the recidivism rates are extremely low,” Longo concluded.
There are also significant questions about the science surrounding predictions of future sexual misconduct. While this is true for all offenders, it’s particularly problematic for juveniles, whose brains are still developing. Mental health experts rely on a series of actuarial tools to augment their clinical assessments in evaluating whether individuals qualify for civil commitment. Take, for instance, this paragraph from the findings of fact in Timothy Coon’s commitment case:
Actuarial assessment of the likelihood that Respondent will re-offend: Respondent’s score on the Minnesota Sex Offender Screening Tool-Revised (MnSOST-R) was 7, placing him in the moderate range of recidivism. His test score on the Sex Offender Risk Appraisel (sic) Guide (SORAG) place him in a risk tier of offenders who are charged with a new sexual offense at 58% over a seven year follow-up and 80% over a ten year follow-up. His score on the STATIC-99 was 6, placing him in a risk tier of released offenders who are charged with a new sexual offense 38% over five years, 46% over 10 years, and 52% over a 15 year follow-up. Respondent’s score on the Psychopathic Checklist Revised-2nd Edition (PCLR-2) showed that Respondent scored 21. Typically a cutoff score of 30 or higher is viewed as denoting individuals who fit the categorical definition of “psychopathy.” Respondent cannot presently be determined to fit ‘categorical’ psychopathy.”
While those findings certainly encompass a wide range of tests indicating future dangerousness, many experts question the soundness of these tools. David Burton, a professor at Smith College’s School for Social Work who has written extensively about adolescent sex offenders, says that such tools are accurate about 70 percent of the time. He points out that flipping a coin would provide 50 percent accuracy. “When you use these tools, all you’re adding to the flip of a coin is about 20 percent. That’s it. They suck,” Burton said. “In the risk-assessment world, this is considered a poor tool. Not useless by any means. It’s good for treatment guidance, things like that. But these are considered poor tools, all of them.”

The U of M’s Michael Miner is less critical of the reliability of such instruments. He points out that research clearly indicates that they are more successful in predicting future dangerousness than clinical assessments. “We know that clinical judgment is notoriously poor and that using actuarial or mathematical or mechanical tools … improves our ability to predict considerably,” Miner said. But that doesn’t mean he’s entirely comfortable with the system’s reliance on these tools for decisions that could result in lifetime detention for individuals whose only criminal offenses occurred when they were juveniles. “Their predictive validity is somewhere between modest and moderate,” Miner said. “So it’s not great, but it’s not horrible. And we’re making these very serious decisions based on them. I have concerns about that.”

Warren Maas and other experts point out that the state of recidivism studies is very fluid. “I think that there are a lot of bright people working very hard on doing research,” Maas said. “But it’s a difficult phenomenon to define. It’s a difficult phenomenon to study. I don’t think we know as much as we think we know. What does seem to be clear is that offending as an adolescent does not predict offending as an adult very well at all, if you look at the research. Being an offender as an adolescent has very little correlation with being an offender as an adult. That’s another reason that this is just a grossly unfair thing.”

Another troublesome aspect of these actuarial tools is that they’re primarily based on static factors related to previous criminal conduct. Males who have molested children, for instance, are deemed extremely likely to commit additional offenses in the future a­­­nd therefore score very high on the actuarial tools. No amount of treatment will do anything to change that reality.

For example, in the case of the Static-99 — one of the tools most commonly used to predict whether an individual will re-offend — there are only two variable factors: age and whether a person is single. For an individual entering the MSOP at age 19, it will take many years before age can have any significant positive effect on their scores. It’s no coincidence that the one individual provisionally released from the program over the last two decades, Clarence Opheim, was 64 years old. As for domestic living arrangements, confinement in the MSOP obviously prevents that from changing. While such tools aren’t explicitly used to determine whether a client is deemed ready for provisional discharge, they undoubtedly color those decisions as part of the client’s medical records.

Miner points out that experts in the field — including the developers of the Static-99 test — are working on tools that take into account factors such as progress in sex offender treatment programs. “We’re working on tools that could look at dynamic factors,” Miner said. “But we’re not there yet.”

Legislative inaction

There is little doubt that the MSOP has to change. The program as currently constituted appears legally as well as financially unsustainable. The 2011 report by the Legislative Auditor detailed systemic problems with the program. It found that potential detainees are subjected to disparate treatment across the state, that the treatment program is wholly inadequate, and that less-restrictive and cheaper alternatives to civil commitment need to be developed. A class-action lawsuit challenging the terms of confinement for all 668 clients is currently pending in federal court. That case has already resulted in an order for the state to create a task force to look at ways of reforming the program. (See related post)

But it’s equally evident that, amid all the legal and political machinations that have engulfed the program in the past decade, there has been no one crafting policy or advocating for the interests of the 8 percent of the MSOP population that is confined on the basis of offenses they committed as juveniles. The 2011 legislative auditor’s report is the most exhaustive investigation of the program to date, but it is mute on the subject of former juvenile offenders caught in the system.

“We were certainly aware of it,” Legislative Auditor James Nobles said of MSOP clients without any adult criminal convictions. “We didn’t take a position [in the OLA report], largely because I think it’s ultimately up to the courts to decide, as it is with all of the people who are in the program.”
Sen. Warren Limmer, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and an advocate of reforms at MSOP, said the plight of former juvenile offenders in the system has been on legislative radar — though it has yet to yield any action. “We knew that there were people like that in the system,” he said, “and we were trying to get a handle on, where do we go from here? If they were juveniles, why wasn’t a juvenile system working? Will it ever work? Are these people beyond treatment help? Those are the questions that we were beginning to [raise]. But we didn’t come to a full range of answers, because this whole system is so complex and deep.”

Even some of the prosecutors responsible for seeking indefinite detainment for individuals acknowledge that the existing system is broken. “We need some kind of system to protect people from themselves and from others,” said Hennepin County’s Mike Freeman. “Having said that, I think, and I think the majority of folks who work in this area, even from the prosecutor’s side … believe that the process is sending too many people to that program since Rodriguez, and I have been urging some changes. And I’ve been at the Legislature, so I’ve been public about this.”

DHS Deputy Commissioner Anne Barry expects the 2011 legislative auditor’s report to serve as a blueprint for the court-ordered MSOP task force when it begins deliberations this month. “I think one of the first things on the first agenda should be the auditor’s report,” Barry said. “It serves as a really exceptional road map for us. We don’t need to recreate a lot of the findings and recommendations that came out of that report.”

Legislative leaders have also recognized that changes need to be made. Last year Limmer, along with his House counterpart, Rep. Tony Cornish, who chairs that chamber’s Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee, and Senate HHS Committee Chairman David Hann, spent months studying ways to overhaul the state’s sex offender policies. They gathered input from prosecutors, treatment professionals, defense attorneys, MSOP officials and others with a stake in the state’s sex offender policies. Out of that process, they created a piece of draft legislation that envisaged a significant overhaul of the existing system.

Most notably, Limmer and Cornish looked at implementing indeterminate sentencing for violent sex crimes. Under such a system, serious sex offenders would only be released from prison after being vetted by a panel and deemed fit for release. It would be similar to the old parole board system. Indeterminate sentencing would eventually stem the pipeline of referrals to MSOP and save the state money. That’s because it costs roughly three times as much to keep an individual confined at an MSOP facility as it does to keep him in prison.

But even before Limmer and Cornish could offer up a bill, their efforts got sabotaged by politics. In February 2012, after it was announced that 64-year-old convicted pedophile Clarence Opheim would become the first individual to be provisionally discharged from the MSOP, House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Majority Leader Matt Dean seized on the opportunity to smear the administration of Gov. Mark Dayton for being soft on pedophiles.

“Mr. Opheim is responsible for approximately 100 separate sex offenses with almost 30 different victims, with one of those victims as young as eight years old,” Zellers and Dean wrote to Dayton at the time. “Releasing a dangerous child sex predator into a densely populated urban area is reckless, and runs counter to your stated goal of making public safety the top priority for state government.”
GOP legislative leadership also made it clear to Cornish and Limmer that no significant sex-offender legislation would be moving forward in 2012. The episode was yet another instance in which the chance to score political points trumped credible policy discussions when it comes to the state’s sex offender policies.

Limmer doesn’t single out individual legislators for criticism, but his assessment of what transpired is withering. “I’m discouraged that the Legislature was so fearful of the issue they didn’t want to talk about it in public,” Limmer said. “If that’s the type of people we have in the Legislature — that they aren’t even going to have the mere discussion to solve obvious problems, to avoid a constitutional crisis that a court could declare — then maybe those people should consider a different line of work. We’re here to solve problems. We’re not here to push things under the rug and hope that the next generation of political people might [show] the leadership that we don’t.”
Limmer think it’s urgent that the Legislature address the MSOP’s problems. “The last thing we want is a court, sometime in what I consider the near future, to say the whole program’s bad and 50 to 100 residents are immediately released, not to a counselor, not to a halfway house, but directly to the streets of Minnesota,” Limmer said. “That is unacceptable.”

Hope and fear

Timothy Coon’s family members believe that he has changed dramatically in the decade-plus since he was first institutionalized as a dangerous sex offender. The indications are both subtle and substantial. He calls home on family member’s birthdays to offer well wishes, something he would never have thought to do in the past. He no longer constantly rails about the injustice of his situation. For the last year he’s stopped taking medications for depression and attention deficit disorder without any significant ill effects.

Lucy Coon was particularly struck by a recent conversation in which Timothy expressed apprehension about the pending class-action lawsuit and what would happen if he was suddenly released back into society. He pointed out his lack of experience with even day-to-day tasks like paying bills or renting an apartment. “That was probably the most mature thing I’ve heard come from his lips,” Lucy said, noting that in the past Timothy had unrealistically suggested that he would move to the Cayman Islands if released. “He still has that bluff in him, but I see so much more maturity in him … That was the first real, true, heartfelt ‘I’m scared.’”

Her daughters are now young adults. They’ve had no relationship with their brother since he was initially taken out of the home at age 15. Clients at the MSOP are prohibited from having any contact with their victims. Lucy doesn’t believe they continue to face significant psychological damages as a result of Timothy’s abuse. “They are more affected by the fact that they haven’t seen him in 11 years,” Lucy said. “I think they’re more traumatized by the fact that everybody’s kept them as far away from him as possible.”

Coon’s family members don’t deny that he still needs treatment. But they believe there is a much less restrictive setting where he could continue to receive therapy and live a more normal life. “In that period of time, we have learned physiologically that there’s a whole lot of brain development that goes on,” said Abby Dawkins, his grandmother, a licensed social worker. “We didn’t know so much about that. I think the executive function part of his brain has matured. I believe that if he could be tested again, we could see that he has matured … His brain is a different brain than it was at 15.”

Lucy Coon believes that her son could function well in some kind of group-home environment with a heavily regimented schedule. “I can’t see that the use of barbed wire is necessary,” she said. “It’s hard to know because he’s never been outside of barbed wire for 11 years, and he was a kid. I’ve never seen this young man outside of barbed wire.”

Timothy agrees that he’s changed dramatically in the ensuing years since he was first institutionalized for molesting his sisters. “I’ve matured a lot compared to what I was back then,” Coon said. “I was still the kid who was completely rebellious. I thought that I was untouchable. I did what I wanted, and the heck with the consequences.” ..Source.. by Paul Demko

Prosecutors drop bid to keep Seattle serial rapist locked up

7-19-2013 Washington:

State psychiatrist’s change of opinion means freedom for Seattle sex offender

A Seattle serial rapist will likely be free for the first time in 16 years early next week, when prosecutors expect to drop an effort to have him institutionalized indefinitely as a violent sexual predator.

Sentenced to prison in 1997 for a string of sexual assaults, Sallyea McClinton, now 35, would have been released a year ago had King County prosecutors filed a lawsuit meant to keep him confined until state psychologists determined he was fit for release. A change in opinion by a state psychologist who previously found McClinton eligible for institutionalization forced prosecutors to ask that the lawsuit be dismissed.

Under Washington law, county prosecutors or the state Attorney General’s Office can file civil lawsuits asking that convicted sex offenders be confined indefinitely at a Department of Social and Health Services facility, the Special Commitment Center.

To prevail, prosecutors must show that an offender is likely to sexually assault again, and that the offender has a mental abnormality making him so. If a jury or judge agrees with prosecutors, an offender can be sent to the McNeil Island facility.

The Special Commitment Center is home to about 300 men being held indefinitely. While several offenders have "graduated" from the program and more than a dozen others are living off the island, most remain at the facility. They make up about 1 percent of the sex offenders convicted in Washington courts.

Prior to prosecutors attempting to have McClinton confined at the Special Commitment Center, a state psychologist found McClinton was likely to offend again. Late last month, the psychologist reviewed her work and agreed with a defense expert that McClinton does not qualify for civil commitment.

That change in opinion left prosecutors unable to continue the lawsuit, King County Prosecutor’s Office spokesman Dan Donohoe said Tuesday. Prosecutors have asked that the case be dismissed, and a King County Superior Court judge is expected to grant that request during a hearing Monday.

McClinton was suspected of raping or assaulting least six women in the weeks surrounding his 18th birthday in the fall of 1995.

“All totaled, over six weeks Mr. McClinton engaged in serial rapes or attempted sexual assaults with four females,” a psychologist said in a report filed by prosecutors. The psychologist went on to assert McClinton attempted to sexually assault a fifth woman during the same spree.

According to court papers, McClinton attacked a 34-year-old woman after following her home from a Rainier Avenue bus stop. McClinton raped her at knifepoint in an apartment complex elevator.

McClinton later forced his way into the apartment a 33-year-old woman shared with her two children. Once inside, he attempted to rape the woman but was thwarted after the woman’s 13-year-old broke a window to summon help. McClinton returned to the apartment the following day, but was scared off by another of the woman’s children.

A jury acquitted McClinton in another attack at a Seattle apartment. Reports indicate McClinton was suspected in at least three other cases. Charges were not pursued in those cases.

Writing the court, a clinical psychologist who interviewed McClinton noted the Seattle native was first suspected of sexual assault at age 15. After that, he spent much of his youth in foster homes or was homeless until his arrest in the string of sex assaults.

Since being convicted of rape, attempted rape and burglary in 1997, McClinton was faulted on multiple occasions for harassing corrections officers and other women working at state prisons where he was serving time. He also exposed himself to or masturbated in front of prison workers 10 times. All told, he received 120 disciplinary infractions during his years in the prison system.

McClinton did not participate in sex offender treatment while in prison. Asked what he planned to do if released, he said, according to the psychologist’s report, he would simply choose not to attack anyone.

Presently confined at the Special Commitment Center, McClinton is expected to return to King County Superior Court on Monday. A judge will then decide when McClinton will be released.

Once freed, the Department of Corrections will be able to monitor McClinton for two years. He will also be required to register as a sex offender. ..Source.. by LEVI PULKKINEN

Trial for Civil Commitment of Convicted Rapist Begins

6-25-2013 Washington:

Indefinite Incarceration: Mark T. Robinson Served a 12-Year Sentence After He was Convicted of the Rape and Kidnapping of a Winlock Woman in 2000; He Now Faces Indefinite Time on McNeil Island

More than a year after Mark T. Robinson completed his 12-year prison sentence for the rape of a Winlock woman, he is still in custody and may be held indefinitely if the state convinces a jury that he is a sexual sadist.

Robinson is one of a few hundred offenders in Washington who the state attempts to keep incarcerated indefinitely under the Washington Sexually Violent Predator Law. ..Source.. by Stephanie Schende

Sex Crime Summary: SVP-642-12 In the Matter of the Civil Commitment of C.H., App. Div. Docket No. A-2146-12T2

7-10-2013 New Jersey:

In In the Matter of the Civil Commitment of C.H the Court reversed the trial court’s dismissal of a post criminal incarceration petition for civil commitment of C.H. pursuant to the Sexually Violent Predator Act, aka, MAGAN”S LAW.  The State petitioned the court for the civil commitment of C.H. when he was eligible for release after his18 month incarceration for parol supervision reporting requirement.  The trial court dismissed the petition on December 26, 2012 and the state subsequently appealed.

  C.H. is a fifty-five year old convicted rapist with multiple sex crime convictions, including four sexual offenses on woman between ages seventeen and thirty-six from 1978 to 2005.  C.H. has also been convicted of violent crimes, drug related convictions, sexual assaults on women that were plead down to terroristic threats and a report of forced sex in 2007. Under the Sexually Violent Predator Act, N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.26, an involuntary civil commitment can follow a sentence if the court finds the offender suffers from a disorder that makes the person likely to engage in acts of sexual violence; the offender has an abnormality or disorder when his emotional, cognitive or volitional capacities are affected “in a manner that predisposes that person to commit act acts of sexual violence. Pursuant to NJSA 30:4-27.26 et. seq. the State must prove an individual is “a threat to health and safety of others because of his or her likelihood of his or her engaging in sexually violent acts” because the offender is “highly likely” to reoffend by clear and convincing evidence. In re Commitment of W.Z., 173 N.J. 109, 132 (2002).

At the November 2012 hearing the sole issue was the determination of what constituted  “highly likely” with regard to C.H. and the risk of reoffending. The state argued C.H.’s record reflects a long history of terroristic threats, robbery, drug crimes, violent crimes, sexual assaults, raping of female victims and repeated parole violations. Although C.H. had not reoffended since his most recent release in 2009, State psychiatrists determined that C.H. was highly likely to reoffend and fit the criteria for involuntary civil commitment. With age the risk of a repeat offense decreases in past offenses, and C.H. had went more than 2 years without a problem.  However, the State expert stated there was an increased risk of recidivism with C.H because of his persistent antisocial behavior. The judge accepted the argument that C.H. was predisposed to committing sex crimes in the future however the State failed to meet its evidentiary burden and did not show by clear and convincing evidence that C.H. was highly likely to repeat.

The appellate court reversed upon a plenary review of C.H.’s criminal history which it found shows him to be a risk and still having a robust antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). Second, the trial judge’s conclusion was significantly flawed by misconstruing C.H.’s arrest record to be arrest free for four-five consecutive years when in fact it was only a few months. Third, C.H. has unresolved drug problems that the judge gave insufficient weight and failed to impose treatment conditions on for release. Fourth, it was undisputed that C.H. had ASPD. Fifth, there was a lack of evidence that C.H. aged out of the risk area. Finally, C.H. should not be released until his most recent 2007 report of a sexual assault is fully investigated.
..Source.. by Jeffrey Hark

Doubts Rise as States Hold Sex Offenders After Prison

3-4-2007 California:

The decision by New York to confine sex offenders beyond their prison terms places the state at the forefront of a growing national movement that is popular with politicians and voters. But such programs have almost never met a stated purpose of treating the worst criminals until they no longer pose a threat.

About 2,700 pedophiles, rapists and other sexual offenders are already being held indefinitely, mostly in special treatment centers, under so-called civil commitment programs in 19 states, which on average cost taxpayers four times more than keeping the offenders in prison.

In announcing a deal with legislative leaders on Thursday, Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, suggested that New York’s proposed civil commitment law would “become a national model” and go well beyond confining the most violent predators to also include mental health treatment and intensive supervised release for offenders.

“No one has a bill like this, nobody,” said State Senator Dale M. Volker, a Republican from western New York and a leading proponent in the Legislature of civil confinement.

But in state after state, such expectations have fallen short. The United States Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the laws in part because their aim is to furnish treatment if possible, not punish someone twice for the same crime. Yet only a small fraction of committed offenders have ever completed treatment to the point where they could be released free and clear.

Leroy Hendricks, a convicted child molester in Kansas, finished his prison term 13 years ago, but he remains locked up at a cost to taxpayers in that state of $185,000 a year — more than eight times the cost of keeping someone in prison there.

Mr. Hendricks, who is 72 and unsuccessfully challenged his confinement in the Supreme Court, spends most days in a wheelchair or leaning on a cane, because of diabetes, circulation ailments and the effects of a stroke. He may not live long enough to “graduate” from treatment.

Few ever make such progress: Nationwide, of the 250 offenders released unconditionally since the first law was passed in 1990, about half of them were let go on legal or technical grounds unrelated to treatment.

Still, political leaders, like those in New York, are vastly expanding such programs to keep large numbers of rapists and pedophiles off the streets after their prison terms in a response to public fury over grisly sex crimes.

In Coalinga, Calif., a $388 million facility will allow the state to greatly expand the offenders it holds to 1,500. Florida, Minnesota, Nebraska, Virginia and Wisconsin are also adding beds.

At the federal level, President Bush has signed a law offering money to states that commit sex offenders beyond their prison terms, and the Justice Department is creating a civil commitment program for federal prisoners.

Even with the enthusiasm among politicians, an examination by The New York Times of the existing programs found they have failed in a number of areas:

¶Sex offenders selected for commitment are not always the most violent; some exhibitionists are chosen, for example, while rapists are passed over. And some are past the age at which some scientists consider them most dangerous. In Wisconsin, a 102-year-old who wears a sport coat to dinner cannot participate in treatment because of memory lapses and poor hearing.

¶The treatment regimens are expensive and largely unproven, and there is no way to compel patients to participate. Many simply do not show up for sessions on their lawyers’ advice — treatment often requires them to recount crimes, even those not known to law enforcement — and spend their time instead gardening, watching television or playing video games.

¶The cost of the programs is virtually unchecked and growing, with states spending nearly $450 million on them this year. The annual price of housing a committed sex offender averages more than $100,000, compared with about $26,000 a year for keeping someone in prison, because of the higher costs for programs, treatment and supervised freedoms.

¶Unlike prisons and other institutions, civil commitment centers receive little standard, independent oversight or monitoring; sex among offenders is sometimes rampant, and, in at least one facility, sex has been reported between offenders and staff members.

¶Successful treatment is often not a factor in determining the relatively few offenders who are released; in Iowa, of the nine men let go unconditionally, none had completed treatment or earned the center’s recommendation for release.

¶Few states have figured out what to do when they do have graduates ready for supervised release. In California, the state made 269 attempts to find a home for one released pedophile. In Milwaukee, the authorities started searching in 2003 for a neighborhood for a 77-year-old offender, but have yet to find one.

Supporters of the laws offer no apologies for their shortcomings, insisting that the money is well spent. Born out of the anguish that followed a handful of high-profile sex crimes in the 1980s, the laws are proven and potent vote-getters that have withstood constitutional challenges.

“There has to be a process in place that prevents someone from rejoining society if they’re still dangerous,” said Jeffrey Klein, a Democratic member of the New York State Senate who has pushed for civil confinement there.

Martin Andrews, 47, of Woodbridge, Va., who was abducted, buried in a box and repeatedly sexually assaulted for a week when he was 13, also supports the laws.

“If they can’t control themselves,” Mr. Andrews said, “we need to do it for them.”

But the myriad problems have concerned some advocates for victims of sexual abuse, who suggest the money is being wasted and that other options for dealing with dangerous sex offenders — such as giving them longer prison terms, preventing sentencing deals with prosecutors and mandating treatment during incarceration — would be more effective.

“Civil commitment is a huge, huge assignment of resources,“ said Anne Liske, the former executive director of the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, a victims’ advocacy group. “This wholesale warehousing — without using the proper assessment tools and with throwing treatment in when they are not people who can be treated — has already proven not to be working, so why would we do it more?”

A Series of Convictions

Leroy Hendricks was a likely candidate for commitment as he prepared to leave a Kansas prison in 1994.

Mr. Hendricks’s most recent crime, for which he had been convicted a decade earlier, had been “indecent liberties” with two 13-year-old boys in an electronics shop where he worked. All told, his convictions left a painful trail reaching back to 1955: exposing himself to young girls; molesting 7- and 8-year-old boys at a carnival where he was the ride foreman; molesting a 7-year-old girl; playing strip poker with a 14-year-old girl; preying on his own family members, including a boy with cerebral palsy.

Like Mr. Hendricks was, thousands of soon-to-be-released prisoners are screened for commitment each year by state corrections departments, prosecutors and panels. The process varies widely from state to state, as do standards for the evaluators, but in most states, those recommended for commitment have trials before judges or juries.

Mr. Hendricks may have sealed his own fate when he testified in 1994 that he could not “control the urge” to molest when he got “stressed out.” He said his mother, Violet, had wanted a girl when he was born and had dressed him as one when he was growing up.

“I sure don’t want to hurt anybody again,” he told the court, but then conceded that he could not ensure the safety of children in his presence. “The only way to guarantee that is to die,” he said.

More often, these cases come down to contentious duels between psychologists over how best to analyze an offender’s history and likelihood of repeating crimes. In most states, commitment is for an indefinite period, but offenders are allowed to have their cases reviewed by a court periodically.

The results of the screening process are inconsistent. Some offenders are passed up for civil confinement, only to commit vicious crimes again; others’ physical ailments alone make them unlikely repeat predators.

Even though Minnesota prison officials had classified Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., a convicted rapist, in a category of sex offenders most at risk to commit more crimes, Mr. Rodriguez went home when his term ended in May 2003. That November, he kidnapped and killed Dru Sjodin, a North Dakota college student who was beaten and raped.

Likewise, Jerry Buck Inman was charged with raping and strangling a college student in South Carolina last June, nine months after his release from a Florida prison after serving 17 years for rape and other crimes. The authorities in Florida looked at his records but decided not to seek commitment.

Meanwhile, some prosecutors seek commitment for others convicted of noncontact crimes like public exposure. In Florida, prosecutors tried unsuccessfully to civilly commit a man who was imprisoned for driving drunk even though his last sex arrest was decades earlier.

“The population that is being detained is a very, very mixed group,” said Richard Wollert, a psychologist in Portland, Ore., who evaluates civilly committed offenders. “There are cases that are appalling in terms of being kept in custody at the taxpayers’ expense when there are probably alternative placements for them.”

Predicting who is likely to commit future sex crimes has become more of a science over the last decade, but many still find the methods questionable.

Actuarial formulas — akin to the tables used for life insurance — play a central role in deciding who is dangerous enough to be committed. They calculate someone’s risk of offending again by looking at factors such as the number of prior sex offenses and the sex of the victims. Men with male victims are graded as higher risk, for example, because statistics show they are more often repeat offenders.

“The danger is that these numbers will blind people,” said Eric Janus, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul who has challenged Minnesota’s civil commitment law in court.

Politics and emotion also factor heavily into who gets committed, with decisions made by elected judges or juries who may be more affected by the raw facts of someone’s offense history or the public spectacle over their crimes than the dry science of risk prediction.

“It’s so emotional for them,” said Stephen Watson, an assistant public defender who represented an offender in Florida. “They don’t even want to hear the research.”

New Laws Follow Publicized Cases

Earlier in the 20th century, many states had sexual psychopath laws that allowed them to hospitalize offenders deemed too sick for prison. But by the 1980s most such laws had been repealed or fallen into disuse.

But a handful of horrific and highly publicized cases in the 1980s and ’90s spurred lawmakers to act again. Washington State adopted the first civil commitment law in 1990 after men with predatory histories killed a young woman in Seattle and sexually mutilated a boy in Tacoma.

After state courts upheld Washington’s law, Kansas, Minnesota and Wisconsin passed versions in 1994, followed by California in 1996.

Then, in a 5-to-4 decision in 1997, the United States Supreme Court found civil commitment to be constitutional in Kansas v. Hendricks, the same Mr. Hendricks still confined in Kansas.

In the ruling, the justices found that a “mental abnormality” like pedophilia was enough to meet a standard to qualify someone for commitment, not the different standard of “mental illness” that had been traditionally used. The court also rejected the notion that civil commitment amounted to double jeopardy (a second criminal punishment for a single crime) or an ex post facto law (a new punishment for a past crime), noting that Kansas’s statute was not meant to punish committed men but, like other acceptable civil commitment statutes, intended “both to incapacitate and to treat” them therapeutically.

“We have never held that the Constitution prevents a state from civilly detaining those for whom no treatment is available, but who nevertheless pose a danger to others,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority, later adding, “By furnishing such treatment, the Kansas Legislature has indicated that treatment, if possible, is at least an ancillary goal of the act, which easily satisfies any test for determining that the act is not punitive.”

Since then, state officials, civil liberties advocates and lawyers have wrestled with exactly what that treatment requirement means.

“There’s no question about it,” Professor Janus of William Mitchell College said, “it’s a very murky area of the law.”

Since the Hendricks ruling, the courts have indicated that states have “wide latitude” when it comes to treatment for the civilly confined, meaning that unsuccessful treatment alone or an untreatable patient would not be enough to undo the laws.

In 2001, the Supreme Court, in Seling v. Young, decided the case of Andre Brigham Young, a committed man in Washington State who argued that the conditions he was being held under were so punitive and the treatment so inadequate as to amount to a second criminal sentence. The court ruled against Mr. Young.

A year later, in 2002, the Supreme Court made clear the limits of who may be committed by states, saying the authorities must prove not just that an offender is still dangerous and likely to commit more crimes but also that he or she has a “serious difficulty in controlling behavior.”

Some civil libertarians and prisoner advocates, who still object to the laws, have not given up on finding a challenge that the Supreme Court might view favorably. Despite the court rulings, these groups insist civil commitment amounts to a second sentence for a crime.

Even the look of commitment centers reflects the dichotomy at the core of their stated reason for being — to lock away dangerous men (only three women are civilly committed) but also to treat them.

Most of the centers tend to look and feel like prisons, with clanking double doors, guard stations, fluorescent lighting, cinder-block walls, overcrowded conditions and tall fences with razor wire around the perimeters.

Bedroom doors are often locked at night, and mail is searched by the staff for pornography or retail catalogs with pictures of women or children. Most states put their centers in isolated areas. Washington State’s is on an island three miles offshore in Puget Sound.

Yet soothing artwork hangs at some centers, and cheerful fliers announce movie nights and other activities. The residents can wander the grounds and often spend their time as they please in an effort to encourage their cooperation, including sunbathing in courtyards and sometimes even ordering pizza for delivery. The new center in California will have a 20,000-book library, badminton courts and room for music and art therapy.

Diseases like hepatitis and diabetes are common among the committed, and severe mental illness — beyond the mental “abnormalities“ described by the Supreme Court — a scourge. A survey in 2002 found that 12 percent of committed sex offenders suffered from serious psychiatric problems like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Most severely mentally ill men cannot participate in sex offender treatment and receive few services besides medication. Verwayne Alexander, a self-described paranoid schizophrenic who has been detained at the Florida Civil Commitment Center since 2003, has sliced himself so many times with razor blades that a guard often watches him around the clock, lawyers said. Mr. Alexander has sought unsuccessfully to be moved to a psychiatric hospital.

Those who choose to participate in sex offender treatment spend an average of less than 10 hours a week doing so, but the hours differ vastly from state to state. The structure of therapy, too, varies widely, a reflection, perhaps, of the central question still looming in the field: Can treatment ever really work for these offenders?

Admitting to previous crimes is a crucial piece of a broad band of treatment, known as relapse prevention, that is used in at least 15 states and has been the most widely accepted model for about 20 years.

Some of the institutions, too, devote time to other therapies and activities that seem to have little bearing on sexual offending. In Pennsylvania, young residents take classes to improve their health and social habits called “Athlete’s Foot,” “Lactose Intolerance,” “Male Pattern Baldness,” “Flatulence” and “Proper Table Manners.”

In California, they can join a Brazilian drum ensemble or classes like “Anger Management Through Art Therapy” and “Interpersonal Skills Through Mural Making.”

But many of those committed get no treatment at all for sex offending, mainly by their own choice. In California, three-quarters of civilly committed sex offenders do not attend therapy. Many say their lawyers tell them to avoid it because admission of past misdeeds during therapy could make getting out impossible, or worse, lead to new criminal charges.

For those who decline treatment — sometimes including hundreds of “detainees” awaiting commitment trials — boredom, resentment and hostility to those in treatment lead to trouble. Some sneak in drugs, alcohol and cellphones, sometimes with the help of staff members, or beat up other residents, sometimes coercing them into having sex.

“There’s rampant sexuality going on in there,” said Natalie Novick Brown, a psychologist who has evaluated 250 men at Florida’s center.

The people who run civil commitment centers say that a constant, nagging question hangs over them: How to keep order while not treating argumentative, sometimes violent offenders like prisoners? The low-level staff members are not prison guards and tend to be poorly educated, trained and paid. Their job titles — in Illinois, security therapy aide — reflect the awkward balance they must achieve between security and therapy.

Because civil commitment centers are neither prisons nor traditional mental health programs, no specialized oversight body exists. None has been created, in part because its base of financial support, the 19 civil commitment programs around the country, would be too small, several experts who study the programs said. But the need, they said, is urgent.

“They ought to be reviewed by an independent entity with the highest possible standards,” said Dr. Fred Berlin, founder of the Johns Hopkins Sexual Disorders Clinic in Baltimore.

Few Signs of Progress

Around the country, relatively few committed sex offenders finish treatment and are released.

“Every year I go to his hearing, and every year there’s no progress in his case,” said Armand R. Cingolani III, a lawyer with a client in Pennsylvania who was committed in 2004 after being adjudicated as a juvenile for sexual assault on two different minors. “It doesn’t seem that anyone gets better.”

Nearly 3,000 sex offenders have been committed since the first law passed in 1990. In 18 of the 19 states, about 50 have been released completely from commitment because clinicians or state-appointed evaluators deemed them ready. Some 115 other people have been sent home because of legal technicalities, court rulings, terminal illness or old age.

In discharging offenders, Arizona, the remaining state, has been the exception. That state has fully discharged 81 people; there, the facility’s director said records were not available to indicate the reason for those discharges.

An additional 189 people have been released with supervision or conditions (excluding Texas, where there is no commitment center and those committed are treated only as outpatients). And an additional 68 (including 58 in Arizona) are in a higher, “transitional” phase of the program, but still technically committed and often living on state land.

The backlogs have led to an aging population. Inside many facilities, wheelchairs, walkers, high blood pressure and senility are increasingly expensive concerns. Florida’s center filled 229 prescriptions for arthritis medication one recent month, and 300 for blood pressure and other heart problems.

More than 400 of the men in civil commitment are 60 or older, and a number of studies indicate a significant drop in the recidivism rate for this group, many of whom have health problems after years in prison. David Thornton, treatment director of Wisconsin’s center and an expert on recidivism rates, said the decline was increasingly well-documented.

The growth of the committed population has become a political quagmire. No legislator wants to insist on the release of sex offenders, but few are able to swallow the mounting costs of civil commitment. The costs of aging and sick offenders, such as Mr. Hendricks in Kansas, are especially high in part because of their special needs and physical ailments.

From 2001 to 2005, the price of civil commitment in Kansas leapt to nearly $6.9 million from $1.2 million, a state audit there found. “Unless Kansas is willing to accept a higher level of risk and release more sexual predators from the program,” the audit said, “few options exist to curb the growth of the program.”

But as more states consider granting some offenders supervised release, the cost is turning out to be nearly as prohibitive.

For $1.7 million, Washington converted a warehouse in Seattle into a home for men on conditional release. It has 26 cameras monitoring residents, a dozen workers, a surveillance booth overseeing the living area and a 1,700-pound magnetic door.

Two men live there so far.

With the logjams and frustrations mounting, many states have lengthened prison sentences for sex offenders. Virginia last year increased the minimum sentence for certain sexual acts against children to 25 years, from 10, though it also sharply expanded the number of crimes that qualify an offender for civil commitment.

Ida Ballasiotes, whose daughter’s rape and murder in 1988 helped spur the first civil commitment law, in Washington State, said that no sexual predator should walk free and that longer prison sentences should “absolutely” be considered.

“I don’t believe they can be treated, period,” Ms. Ballasiotes said.

After Release, Objections

Even for those sex offenders considered safe enough to be released, going home is no simple process. Kansas authorities decided two years ago that Mr. Hendricks, who was the first person that state committed under its law and who after a decade had progressed to one of the highest phases of treatment, should be moved from Larned State Hospital to a group home in a community where he would be watched around the clock.

Mr. Hendricks would not be allowed onto the home’s porch or patio without an escort, according to court documents. Besides, his medical problems, including poor hearing and eyesight, meant he could not walk down the 40-yard gravel driveway outside the house without falling, the documents said.

But as with many men with his history, the community balked. In California, so many towns object to men leaving civil commitment that some of those released have to live in trailers outside prisons.

“You can’t just sneak them in,” said John Rodriguez, a recently retired deputy director in the California Department of Mental Health. “You’ve got hearings, the court announces it, it’s all over the press.”

In Mr. Hendricks’s case, residents of Lawrence, where he was initially to be moved, collected petitions. “You can tell me that he’s old, but as long as he can move his hands and his arms, he can hurt another child,” said Missi Pfeifer, 37, a mother of three who led the petition drive with her two sisters and mother.

Then officials in Leavenworth County, picked as an alternative, said the choice violated county zoning laws. Mr. Hendricks lasted two days there, in a house off a road not far from a pasture of horses, before a judge ordered him removed.

State officials said they had no choice but to move Mr. Hendricks back to a facility on the grounds of a different state hospital, where he still is.

Through a spokeswoman for the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, Mr. Hendricks declined to speak to The New York Times.

Two years ago, he told The Lawrence Journal-World that he would be living in a group home “if somebody hadn’t opened their damn mouth,” adding, “I’m stuck here till something happens, and I don’t know when that will be.”

Next: Inside the troubled center for sex offenders in Florida.

Correction: March 6, 2007

A chart with the continuation of a front-page article on Sunday about civil commitment, the practice in some states of confining sex offenders beyond their prison terms, misstated the average annual cost per person under the system in Florida. It is $41,845, not $421,845. ..Source.. by MONICA DAVEY and ABBY GOODNOUGH