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July 30, 2014

Should civilly committed sex offenders get in trouble for watching Game of Thrones?

Game-of-Thrones-Leadership-2The question in the title of this post is prompted by this intriguing local article from Virginia, which is headlined "Sex offender claims he was unfairly punished for watching HBO." Here are the notable details:

A human rights advocate for a state facility that provides treatment for civilly committed sex offenders in Virginia has filed a complaint on behalf of one of those sex offenders alleging unfair treatment.

The complaint was filed on July 21, 2014 with the Virginia Center for Behavioral Services and alleges residents at the Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation (VCBR) were unfairly punished for watching HBO. VCBR is a residential treatment facility for civilly committed sexually violent predators, according to the facility’s website.

“On the weekend of June the 27th, HBO was offered as a promotional by the cable provider,” committed sex offender Elijah Howell said. Howell and fellow committed sex offender Robert Baugh told us they watched “We Are the Millers” that weekend with approval from a VCBR staff member. “He said the programming was pre-approved, and there would be no problem with us watching it,” Howell said.

But, the next day, they said roughly 50 of the more than 200 residents at VCBR were punished for watching nudity on HBO and accused of “sexual behavior.”

“It dropped me down from a blue card to a red…there’s a lot of stuff you can’t do when you become a red card,” Baugh said. The residents worry their time at VCBR will be extended for something they said is not a valid punishment.

“When you go to court and you have a sexual behavior observation note… it’s gonna look like this guy doesn’t understand what he’s doing and still getting sexual behavior notes,” Baugh said.

The human rights advocate at VCBR who filed the complaint, Tammy Long, alleges the residents did not engage in sexual behavior. She cites VCBR’s facility instructions, which state sexual behavior involves physical contact. “These convicted sex offenders in this particular facility have all served their criminal time, and then they’ve been civilly committed, not voluntarily, for treatment,” ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Gastanaga said. “So at this point the purpose is supposed to be therapeutic not punitive.”

Gastanaga said if the complaint is accurate, it shows unfair treatment. “It’s about some people doing it because they can…it’s almost bullying,” Gastanaga said.

A spokesperson for the state agency that oversees VCBR said he cannot comment on specific investigations, but human rights complaints are investigated by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Office of Human Rights.

July 30, 2014 at 03:24 PM | Permalink


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As the rights and life of an SO mean squat to the "state" (heads bowed please), your life and rights also will (or already do) mean squat.

Jim Crow, here we are.

It's just a really ugly game of pandering to the worst that is in humanity, and the legal community just accepts this game as having some important, factual and relevant meaning to its discipline I have to laugh at the word discipline.

Posted by: albeed | Jul 30, 2014 5:51:55 PM

State agencies should never be investigated by another state agency. It's like filling out a complaint against a cop with the Police Dept He/She works for. We all know what happens to that complaint form.

Posted by: Book38 | Jul 30, 2014 6:37:12 PM

If somebody does not shut this civil commitment crap down, they will start using it on other groups of people. These, people, have served their time. Do they need observation, yes. But do they need civil commitment no. If they are so bad sentence them to more time, not civil commitment.

Posted by: dlc | Jul 30, 2014 7:06:25 PM

That was hilarious. Sometimes The Onion almost seems too real. Thankfully, no actual human being would be so asinine as to try to punish grownups for watching a TV show.

Posted by: C.E. | Jul 30, 2014 11:31:50 PM

Why don't we commit arsonists,murderers, terrorism supporters, gang members, violent criminals who assault folks, they have high repeat rates.

Posted by: alex | Jul 31, 2014 1:11:16 AM

Now, now, Alex... You're being logical. In a society that loves to hate, sex offenders create the "perfect storm." They're folks who can be tormented forever because they hurt poor defenseless people. Facts don't matter.

Posted by: Oswaldo | Jul 31, 2014 1:49:58 AM

Petty punishments like this for merely watching a TV show can lead to inmate riots at some penetentiaries where inmates target staff and property to vent their frustration. In Egypt in 2011, a single incident of physical assault on a poor vender led to massive democratic uprisings against the Mubarik (sp.?) dictatorship. At San Quentin over the years, we have seen where inmates would engage in violent riots over bad food in the cafeteria. At the Florida State Death Row, the arbitrary denial of visiting privileges to a Florida Death Row inmate at the last minute back in 1979 led that inmate to stab the guard to death who abruptly denied the inmate his visiting rights with a family member merely because that inmate forgot to comb his hair to the guard's satisfaction. Could petty punishment for watching HBO at the Virginia Civil Commitment Center incite otherwise passive inmates there to violently rise up in pent up rage against their jailors and against the state?

Frankly, I'm surprised that the very act of civil commitment doesn't eliminate an inmate's incentive to behave toward staff. One reason why regular prisons gave early release to certain offenders was to give them an incentive not to harm staff or destroy state property. With civil commitment, we have the opposite--where we keep an inmate beyond his or her time. Keeping somebody beyond his or her term, one would think, would give that inmate nothing to lose by lashing out at his or her keepers, especially to individual keepers who like to be petty. Has that possibility ever entered the right-winged Tea Party brains of the Virginia lesgislators who instigated this law? Does the Virginia state government and the Department of Corrections have a contingency plan to insure the safety of guards and staff at its civil commitment centers in the event that the Virginia civil commitment center should ever have an Attica-like uprising? Is a violent inmate uprising at Virginia's civil commitment center what it takes to knock some sence into Virginia's politicians? I sure hope not! We have enough violence in this country without that.

Posted by: william r. delzell | Jul 31, 2014 9:59:18 AM

In a grant study posted on the National Institute of Justice website yesterday, one only need to read the executive summary to see the cost greatly exceed the benefits of Megan's Law over the years. From the study: "Given the lack of demonstrated effect of Megan’s Law on sexual offenses, the growing costs may not be justifiable."
You can read the study for yourself here: < https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/225370.pdf

Posted by: Oswaldo | Jul 31, 2014 1:03:02 PM

The whole 'civil commitment' issue is bothersome. The net is so broad that many are being scooped up that do not belong in the category as a 'violent predator'. Once again it is a political move to make politicians look good. It helps NO one. It costs tax payers millions of dollars annually. The system needs revamping. What politician is brave enough to step forward and do the right thing?

Posted by: cc | Aug 1, 2014 10:16:42 AM

Since every single one of us Americans is just one miscarriage of justice away from either false imprisonment, civil commitment, or what have you, it may take a false conviction or commitment of one of these powerful big shot politicians to create a backlash against civil commitment. Perhaps if civil commitment programs force tax payers to get rid of programs that they DO hold dear like local street safety, garbage pickup, neighborhood lighting, neighborhood police, public school teacher salaries, and street/park maintenance, maybe then we might have a GRASS-ROOTS backlash against civil commitment from the bottom up. If Tea Party politicians use the threat of civil commitment to stifle freedom of speech of popular activists, maybe that will cause a backlash against Tea Party supporters of civil commitment. Even people who want to be "tough" on crime do NOT want to be the individuals who have to foot the bill out of their OWN pocketbook. Nor would these "tough-on-crime" types want to be the ones on the receiving side of our punitive civil commiment/prison system. We need to drive this home to Jane and John Q. Taxpayer to show how civil commitment negatively impacts their WALLET and their constitutional rights as AMERICANS!

As I also reiterated a little while ago, the Virginia Civil Commitment's practice of levying petty punishments for minor infractions like watching HBO could have the unintended effect of galvanizing otherwise docile inmates at the facility into unleashing their pent up rage about being kept beyond their original sentences' expiration and being subject to Mickey Mouse rules. If this happen, then the civil commitment center will have real safety and disciplinary issues on its hands.

Either way, civil commitment is an utter disaster to our country!

Posted by: william r. delzell | Aug 1, 2014 12:53:44 PM

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