Virginia’s problems with its civil commitment program: too many to count

By Patrick Hope . . . The “lock ’em up and throw away the key” era of criminal justice is over. Virginians have reassessed their views on criminal justice to better address mass incarceration weighed against costs and the likelihood to reoffend. Policies ripe for reform include: resentencing prisoners who were convicted as youth; repealing mandatory minimums; legalizing marijuana; abolishing the death penalty; ending solitary; reinstating parole; ending cash bail; and creating alternatives to incarceration.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has a strong track record of criminal justice reform. But there’s one enforcement aspect his office needs to re-examine: the “sexually violent predator” (SVP) laws. Under these laws, Virginia is expanding mass incarceration in the form of a “civil commitment” process at enormous expense, without any demonstrated impact on public safety.

Through this process, the state has locked up hundreds of people at the Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation (VCBR) in Nottoway County in a maximum-security setting on an indefinite basis.

Today, VCBR warehouses an estimated 490 people and projects to grow to 726 people by 2024. Keeping this facility operating costs taxpayers $48 million annually and Virginia plans to spend an additional $110 million to build more beds to keep pace with admissions.

Why is demand growing? In 2006, the General Assembly expanded the number of offenses that qualify as SVP-eligible for civil commitment from four to 28.

Second, Virginia utilizes a biased screening tool for civil commitment prosecutions, called the Static-99, to predict the level of risk of reoffending and justifying civil commitment. The Static-99 includes an explicit bias against gay men and younger offenders.

Finally, the SVP civil commitment process is loaded with due process concerns. Under the law, a psychological expert hired by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) must complete an evaluation to determine whether the person has an uncontrollable psychological “defect” to reoffend, and thereby meets the statutory criteria for civil commitment. If the DBHDS expert finds the detainee does not meet these criteria, that should be the end of the case. However, the attorney general’s office, without statutory authority, can ignore those findings and hire its own psychological expert.

There’s a real-life example of this injustice playing out in Arlington County right now. Galen Baughman is being held for civil commitment based on two offenses for which he unwisely pleaded guilty at age 20. The two convictions are for youthful offenses: one when he was barely 14 years old, the other when he was 19 years old, where the “victim” was 14. He served 6 1/2 years in prison for these two offenses, then was held another 2 1/2 years for a civil commitment trial in 2012, where he was found not to be a SVP by a unanimous jury verdict.

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    • #60315 Reply
      Tim in WI

      Incarceration IS incarceration, so yes trouble results. Thus it was forbidden to help keep us whole. The key is to stop creating predators! But to do that would take too much.

    • #60353 Reply

      I gave a little seneiro about Buford Pusser about fighting crime and being fair and honest. Course he had his hay days also the good bad and the ugly also. So Virginia and these’s commonwealth reform laws seem to be doing well but too many to count. One would even say thats a start but one still has to wonder about the (SVP) label attatched to many on the registry is a bit too much.

      Sure we all can complain about this that and the other but one has to wonders if one can’t see the forest before the tree’s . Who complains about slogans or labels such as “Don’t tread on me” or even the American Flag’s “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. So lets all back track for a second. (1`) Who is controlling. perverting, and inflicting the status quo of the sex offender or labeling, man is. (2) Who is presenting these internet sex sting operations, man is, (3) Who is writing their own laws and methods to control the liberty of others man is. (4) Who is judging another, man is (5)Who is adding law upon law, man is (6)Who is persecuting and intimidating others in this sex offender issue man is in their own way, whether fair or not. man is (7) who is perverting to prevent, man is. (8) Who is presenting these deceitful desires to another man is, (9) Who is tempting who in these types of ordeals, man is (10) Who is mixing a bit of God’s Justice with Man’s Justice, man is. Yes who is judging another in this persecution of man, man is. Ony the knowledge of scripture can prevent errors or do judges error everyday?

      Is it not easier to pervert to prevent or wheres the morality in true justice of man? Even some people jumped all over me when I first came on NARSOL a few years ago with my little bible view’s with no reasoning. Its like what’s that have to do with the sex offender and this law of man. Well look up the word indivisible and you will find the answer to much of this situation and also a pretty good solutions to much of this sex registry rubbish going on today today.
      One wonders who perverts to prevent today or is that man’s divine reasoning of true Justice or is man’s view’s more indivisible today in much of this type bondage or enslavement. In other words you can’t have one without the other, and that’s true principal or is something broken in America or this nation. I wonder who’s right or wrong today in much of this foolish ordeal.

    • #60517 Reply

      The Static-99 is a poor assessment to be used as a predictability tool. This test is designed and has been tested, as to reliability, to measure the likelihood of someone re-offending on the date the test was administered. (This, the word “Static”). It was never intended or assessed as to its effectiveness for predicting the likelihood of future re-offense rates.

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