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WA Civil Commitment Challenged

As reported in the December, 1993, issue of PLN the Washington state supreme court upheld the provisions of the Community Protection Act which mandates indefinite confinement of persons deemed to be "sexual predators" until such time as they are "cured." On January 25, 1994, nine prisoners confined under this law filed a class action suit in US district court in Seattle challenging their labels as sexual predators and the civil commitment proceeding used to confine them. They also claimed that they were being denied treatment stating that the Special Offender Center, a DOC run prison in Monroe, Washington, is being run like a prison rather than a treatment center.

On March 28, 1994, a jury returned a mixed verdict in the above case. The jury agreed that one of the plaintiffs', Richard Turay, constitutional rights were violated by not being provided with adequate mental health treatment. Turay was awarded $100 in damages. Karen Jones, Turay's attorney said: "I think the jury verdict confirmed our view that this is a prison, not a mental health facility."

The jury ruled in favor of prison officials by holding that Turay's civil rights were not violated by policies that included opening the prisoners' mail and restricting their movements around the prison. The jury deadlocked on several other issues, such as whether restricting visiting hours and subjecting the prisoners to strip searches violates their constitutional rights. The parties were to decide whether to have a new jury trial on these issues or allow the judge to decide them.

Bob Boruchowitz, of the Washington Defender Association, informed the Seattle Times that he plans to file a federal habeas corpus petition on behalf of the civilly committed prisoners challenging the fact that they are confined after their terms of imprisonment have expired.

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Related legal case

Turay v. Seling