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January 22, 2012

Effective coverage of the high costs of sex offender civil commitment program in Washington state

Civlcomm_flowchartThe Seattle Times has a very interesting set of pieces today discussing the intricate procedures and high (runaway?) costs involved in the operation of Washington's now-two-decades-old civil commitment program for sex offenders.   This paper and its reporters merit kudos for conducting this in-depth investigation of the longest-running sex offender civil commitment program, and it will be interesting to see how policy-makers respond to a report that seems likely to prompt a political firestorm.

The lead piece, available here, has this headline and subheading: "State wastes millions helping sex predators avoid lockup: Washington's civil-commitment program that shields society from the worst sex offenders is burdened with unchecked legal costs and secrecy, The Seattle Times has found."  Here are excerpts from the start of this lengthy article:

In 1990, Washington became the first state to pass a civil-commitment law, detaining offenders who are deemed by a judge or a jury to be too dangerous to set free. Since then, the controversial program has been plagued by runaway legal costs, a lack of financial oversight and layers of secrecy, The Seattle Times has found.

The state has little or no control over the $12 million a year in legal bills — nearly one-quarter of the [Special Commitment Center's] budget. This results in overbilling and waste of taxpayer money at a time when the agency overseeing the center, the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), faces deep budget cuts.

The civil-commitment law has created a cottage industry of forensic psychologists who have been paid millions of dollars for evaluating sex offenders and testifying across the state.

The Times determined that the busiest and best-paid experts include two psychologists who were fired in California, another who has flown here at state taxpayer expense from his New Zealand home, and one who has been paid $1.2 million over two years, some of it for work on cases in which judges questioned his credibility.

Defense teams have hired multiple psychologists — each charging tens of thousands of dollars — for a single case. In at least eight King County cases, the public paid for three or more forensic experts to evaluate the offender or testify for the defense. The state typically hired one expert. Both sides accuse each other of expert shopping.

Defense lawyers repeatedly delay trials, seeking continuances and appeals, which push costs up. In King County, it takes on average 3.5 years for a commitment case to go to trial; several have taken close to a decade. Meanwhile, offenders are held at McNeil Island, by far the most expensive confinement in the state at $173,000 a year per resident.

It takes up to $450,000 in legal costs to civilly commit a sex offender in King County. Defense outspends prosecution almost 2-to-1, says David Hackett, prosecutor in charge of civil commitments.

How some of the money is spent is a mystery. King County judges, at the request of defense attorneys who cited lawyer-client privilege, have indefinitely sealed hundreds of documents authorizing funds for defense experts. The Times fought successfully to get many of these records unsealed, which included psychologists' names and their fees. Hackett said the program needs a financial overhaul. "It's a morass," he said. "We've left the door to the candy store wide open."

Here are links to some of the companion pieces run with this lead article:

January 22, 2012 at 11:49 AM | Permalink

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Comments

article: "The civil-commitment law has created a cottage industry of forensic psychologists who have been paid millions of dollars for evaluating sex offenders and testifying across the state"

me: and this is why while I support long prison terms for sex offenders, the sex offender registry, and extreme restrictions on sex offender freedom when released I oppose the civil commitment of sex offenders. If a state is going to take away all freedoms of a person and lock them away in what is for all practical purposes a prison, they need to do so on better grounds than the guess of a psychologist whose financial interest depends upon finding as many people in need of "sex offender treatment" as possible.

eliminate costly and ineffective "civil" commitment and you can provide better tracking for all sex offenders.

Erika :)

Posted by: virginia | Jan 22, 2012 2:54:25 PM

nice but must be considered JUNK based on the beginning!

"The lead piece, available here, has this headline and subheading: "State wastes millions helping sex predators avoid lockup: Washington's civil-commitment program that shields society from the worst sex offenders is burdened with unchecked legal costs and secrecy, The Seattle Times has found." Here are excerpts from the start of this lengthy article:"

sorry the state is not HELPING the EX criminals do ANYTHING!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jan 22, 2012 2:59:17 PM

easy enough to solve the problem with costs.

STOP locking people up AFTER they COMPLETE THEIR LEGAL COURT ORDERED SENTENCE!

If the state thinks someone is a danger then drag out that almost 200 year old LEGAL civil comitment sytem that works just fine and USE IT!

sorry as long as the state continues to use this ILLEGAL EX POST law i hope all these con artists and YES that is what they are TAKE THE STATE TO THE CLEANERS!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jan 22, 2012 3:08:38 PM

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