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WA Special Commitment Center Failing

In 1989 Washington State passed a controversial "civil commitment" law to allow for the indefinite incarceration of "dangerous sexual predators." Opponents of this law point out that although those who are determined to be sexual predators are confined to a "treatment center" until they can show that they are no longer dangerous, the laws true purpose is indefinite imprisonment of those who fall under its scope. Challenges to the civil commitment law itself have withstood state court scrutiny and litigation is pending in federal district court.

One of the prisoners confined in the "Special Commitment Center", Richard Tutay, filed suit in a separate action claiming that although he was confined there until he can demonstrate that he has received a sufficient amount of treatment, conditions in the center preclude him from getting quality treatment. His suit alleged that his confinement amounted to imprisonment and that he was treated more like a prisoner than as a person with a mental illness.

In response to that suit, U.S. District Court Judge William Dwyer issued an injunction calling for a variety of improvements in the way the center is run.  He ordered the appointment of a special master to evaluate the treatment center and oversee court ordered improvements to the center.

In a related action in King County Superior Court, Judge Sharon Armstrong cited a long list of deficiencies in the center. Among the problems cited in her 16 page ruling were: unqualified and inadequately trained staff; lack of critically needed treatment components; frequent staff abuse of those imprisoned (the court refers to them as "residents") in the center, in one case a staff member tried to talk one prisoner into assaulting another prisoner; those imprisoned in the center have less freedom of movement and fewer treatment alternatives than sex offenders imprisoned by the Department of Corrections (the Special Commitment Center, although attached to a wing of a DOC prison, is operated by the Department of Social and Health Services); little actual therapy is offered, and the relations between center staff and those under their charge is so poor that few of the prisoners participate in the "treatment" at all.

Janice Marques, a California expert in the treatment of sex-offenders, is the special master anointed by Dwyer. She filed her first report in December of 1994 after a two day visit to the center. She cited lack of staff teaming; critical treatment components not offered (such as family therapy and after care), and a "lack of specific behaviors the residents must learn, to avoid repeat crimes." She also cited the program for not having a strong clinical leader or a well-articulated statement of how the program works.

Considering that those imprisoned at the center have been found to suffer from a "mental disorder" that predisposes them to commit sex crimes, and are indefinitely committed until they can show that they have been "treated" for this mental disorder, the landings of the special master, casts serious doubt on the states assertion that the law is not "preventative detention" as most critics claim. "Wingdings"

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