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VA: Longer sentences for violent sex predators

[ – 7/2/18]

THE Commonwealth of Virginia recently announced plans to expand a facility that treats convicted sex offenders who have served their prison sentences, but are considered too dangerous to release back into the community. It is alarming that the center has already exceeded its initial residency projections just 10 years after opening in 2008.

The Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation in Burkeville will increase its current capacity from 258 to 450 beds to make room for former inmates classified as sexually violent predators (SVPs). The $110 million project will also expand spaces for treatment programs and support services.

Virginia is one of 20 states that has laws (Virginia Code § 37.2-900) permitting the civil confinement of SVPs whose mental abnormalities or personality disorders put them at high risk of reoffending.

After a psychological screening using the Static-99 test, in which higher scores correspond to higher rates of recidivism, an interagency Commitment Review Committee identifies inmates who have a prior history of committing sexually violent crimes, especially against victims under age 13, or were declared incompetent to stand trial.

The committee then makes a recommendation to the state attorney general’s office, which reviews the case and then decides whether to petition the court for civil commitment. The court makes the final determination as to whether the individual is to be conditionally released or confined indefinitely. Offenders are entitled to an annual hearing each year for the first five years, and every two years thereafter.

In a 1997 case, Kansas V. Hendricks, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states may “take measures to restrict the freedom of the dangerously mentally ill”—including SVPs, provided that they satisfy due process and other constitutional requirements. “Commitment is not tantamount to punishment,” the court stated.

However, an article published in the Regent University Law Review that same year pointed out that “former sexual offenders have no potentially convincing evidence to show the soundness of their mental state against the overwhelming evidence of their past actions.” It also raised a good question: If those civilly confined are dangerously mentally ill, “what justification the state has for initially punishing these same victims via the criminal law?”

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