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December 26, 2010

Noting the very high economic costs of sex offender civil commitment

This new local story out of New York, which is headlined "Civil confinement of sex offenders costs state $175,000 apiece," provides an effective review of the economic realities of sex offender civil confinement schemes.  Here are excerpts from this lengthy piece:

In New York, the end of a criminal sentence for a sex offender doesn't mean he's going free.  In 2007, state lawmakers took steps to protect the public from sexual predators. That year they approved a civil commitment program designed to route dangerous sex offenders whose sentences are ending into treatment in secure state psychiatric facilities.

However, little thought was given to long-term costs or the likelihood that space for treatment could one day become an expensive dilemma.  That day has come.  Only in its fourth year, civil commitment is already coping with cost and space strains.  Since many offenders who are locked away are unlikely to be released for years, if ever, the costs will continue to escalate....

The program is far costlier than imprisoning criminals: a civilly detained offender costs four times the spending for an inmate jailed in a state prison.  New York's average price tag to treat sex offenders in secured facilities — about $175,000 a person — makes it the costliest program of its kind in the country, slightly more than in California.  Twenty states have civil commitment programs, but they vary in approach.  Texas, for instance, only uses outpatient treatment.

Although only a small percentage of the pool of convicted sex offenders ends up civilly institutionalized in New York, the state still has one of the highest rates of civil confinement in the country, records show.  For New York lawmakers, this will create a demand for tens of millions of tax dollars in coming years at the same time that officials face dire budgetary constraints. "We are facing capacity issues, census pressures," said Richard Miraglia, the OMH associate commissioner of forensic services.

The courtroom fights over civil commitment have their own costs, often outstripping the costs of criminal cases.  Civil commitment hearings and trials can become a duel between psychiatric experts warring over whether the offender has a "mental abnormality" that makes him unable to control criminal impulses — a legal requirement for confinement....

New York lawmakers did provide extra funding for OMH when civil commitment started in 2007 but with little foresight on the escalating costs.  Other states provided plenty of evidence for New York to recognize the budgetary strains of civil commitment programs. Minnesota's program has tripled in cost over the past six years and a $62 million facility that opened in Virginia in 2008 is nearing capacity.

In New York, funding was based on an assumption that most offenders would be routed into the cheaper parole-supervised program and not institutionalized.  Instead, more than two of every three offenders found to have a mental disorder have been sent into the state facilities instead of the parole option....

At the current rate of growth — about 70 newly confined offenders annually — treatment costs alone will grow by about $12 million a year.  OMH has already trimmed its costs by reducing staff at facilities; originally the average cost per offender was $225,000 a year....

Lawmakers will find answers because civil commitment is a vital part of the state's public safety measures, said state Sen. Michael Nozzolio, R-Fayette, Seneca County.  Senate Republicans "supported it aggressively," he said.  "We believed it was an alternative that needed to be pursued."

Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, D-Brooklyn, supported civil commitment but admits that the costs are a concern.  "There is a real problem and 30 years from now we may be doing what we did with Rockefeller (drug laws) and repealing civil confinement because it's not working," Lentol said.  "But we haven't reached that point yet."

Coincidentally, a local paper in Washington state is also covering these cost issues in a series of piece about state sex offender regulations. This piece about civil confirment is headlined "Confining State's Sex Predators: Is It Still a Cost-Effective Solution?", and here is one excerpt:

It costs about $177,000 a year to house each resident at the [Special Commitment Center for sexually violent predators], which adds up to about $48 million a year for all those committed. It costs $34,000 a year to house an inmate in a state prison.

Other costs include the roughly $350,000 to put a case before a jury and commit them there, according to the state’s Department of Social and Health Services.  Each resident is also entitled to an annual review of their confinement.

State Attorney General Rob McKenna acknowledges that it’s expensive, but he says the center is “highly effective.”  Given that many sex abuse victims never disclose the abuse to authorities, McKenna sees an even greater need for the facility.  He says that those confined are likely to have many more victims than they were convicted for.

Regardless of how stark the budget outlook is for the state, McKenna insists the center must be prioritized and continue.  “It’s so important given the high likelihood of these individuals to reoffend,” he said.

December 26, 2010 at 09:23 PM | Permalink


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serves the little nazi's right...i hope every one of the state's are forced in bankruptcy and i'd laugh to see the UN come in and take over.

Posted by: rodsmith | Dec 27, 2010 2:41:15 AM

Civil Commitment statutes allow state authorities to hold sex offenders after their criminal sentences have expired if the offender is deemed too dangerous to be released. Such statutes usually mandate that these offenders be confined to a treatment facility until they are no longer an imminent risk to the community. Legal opinions about civil commitment have indicated that appropriate treatment must be made available to those who are confined involuntarily and that such confinement must not be oriented toward punishment. (National Alliance to End Sexual Violence)
There are 750,000+ registered sex offenders in the US. Registerable offenses range from ridiculous (Romeo & Juliet dating relationship) to the violent with deadly results. The recidivism rate for sexual offenses is 5%. Published studies document that most sexual offenses come from someone known to the child (family, friend or acquaintance). Therapists worry more about the offenses that never get reported.

Posted by: yellowroselady | Dec 27, 2010 5:17:37 PM

"Legal opinions about civil commitment have indicated that appropriate treatment must be made available to those who are confined involuntarily and that such confinement must not be oriented toward punishment."

The catch-all in this setup is that part of treatment may involve disclosure to new crimes, in which case treatment ends and the patient becomes a suspect in another crime. That is why most civil commitment "patients" refuse treatment, thereby ensuring their permanent status in civil confinement.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Dec 28, 2010 1:26:53 AM

sorry no offence to the retards on the u.s supreme court but the sex offender "so-called civil comittment" doens't even meet the LAUGH test.

Sorry it's not even close to legal in this country to decide someone is sane enough to charge! sane enough to bring to trial! sane enough to go to verdict! sane enough to receive that verdict! sane enough to be sentenced to a prison sentence! sane enough to SERVE that sentence....THEN when it's over....SORRY YOUR NUTS!

Posted by: rodsmith | Dec 28, 2010 2:30:26 AM

sorry in my book the supremes in fact COMITTED TREASON when they chickend out and that every sex offender being held under this law is in fact being ILLEGALLY imprisoned and in fact has been KIDNAPPED and has every legal right like any other kidnap victim to use whatever means necessary upto and INCLUDING LETHAL force to regain their freedom!

Posted by: rodsmith | Dec 28, 2010 2:31:45 AM

Hello, I am Brian, Para Legal student. It is really a great headache for New York Civil Confinement Scheme to bear such a huge expenditure. It is also really very confusing for me why such steps had been taken by the lawmakers in 2007 to confine those paroled and dangerous sex offenders whose terms in prison has already been terminated. If the question is for the protection of the civilians from those sex offenders, then, I have in doubt. No one is dead sure that further crimes and the criminals would be arisen from our society. And the second thing, if there is any possibility to employ those dangerous criminals as per their skills, knowledge and their intelligence. We all are expecting some optimistic approach and hope for the best.

Posted by: George Allen | Jan 5, 2011 1:06:36 AM

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