At Coalinga State Hospital, located in a desolate, dusty part of California’s Central Valley, 200 miles north of Los Angeles, 37-year-old Cory Hoch stands out. He’s well liked by other patients, and his dry sense of humor and lively intelligence come across almost immediately. His feathered earring and neon-green sneakers infuse some color into the surroundings, while his khaki scrubs identify him as a patient.
Since the age of 19, Hoch has lived most of his life in some form of cage. He is one of the more than 5,000 people in 20 states in the federal hospital system. They are trapped in a post-prison purgatory for those convicted of sex crimes, a system called “civil commitment.” While we found that many people with sex offense convictions are released after their sentences are up, some, like Hoch, serve their time and then are held indefinitely in state hospitals, exchanging one form of prison for another.
Under civil commitment, Hoch is supposed to be treated (and held) only until he is considered no longer a “risk to the public,” according to mental health experts contracted by the state. In reality, he may spend the rest of his life locked up. Perhaps more troubling is the overrepresentation of people like Hoch — gay, bisexual, and queer men — who are trapped in this system.