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Sole Washington Woman Civil Commitment Taxes System

Since 1997, when a court deemed her too dangerous to live in society, Laura McCollum has remained the lone female prisoner at Washington's civil commitment center for sexually-violent predators on the grounds of the state's women's' prison near Purdy. McCollum, 43, who has been confined in an, 1,100-square-foot manufactured home, may soon be getting some company, however.

McCollum was convicted in 1990 of second degree child rape and sentenced to five years. At the expiration of her sentence, the state petitioned the trial court for an order declaring her a sexually-violent predator and committing her indefinitely to a "treatment" program. Instead of exercising her right to a jury trial, McCollum agreed to enter the program and thus became only the second woman in the nation classified as a sex predator.

However, in 1997 the state lacked a facility in which to house McCollum, so she initially lived along side the men's program when it was still located on the grounds of the state reformatory at Monroe. A federal judge eventually ordered her transferred to the women's prison at Purdy.

Although isolated from the regular Purdy prisoners, McCollum does eat in the prison cafeteria and exercises in the gymnasium --alone. She spends the rest of her time in her manufactured home sleeping, watching television and knitting. In addition, McCollum meets with a therapist from the men's program four hours a week, and with a recreation therapist twice a week. The remainder of the 44-year-old's time is spent working on her GED or cleaning her living area.

McCollum is "horribly lonely," says her attorney, Mary Opgenorth. "I'm really fearful whether this is a therapeutic environment . . . she's so isolated," added Opgenorth.

The cost of confining McCollum is also a concern. The state pays about $348,000 a year to hold her, which is almost three times the cost of housing a male sex predator at the new complex on McNeil Island. Of course, the reason for this high cost is the necessity of providing the facility and staff for just one person. (Two "residential rehabilitation counselors" monitor McCollum's behavior during her waking hours, while one is assigned to the overnight shift.) This may soon change if the state, gets their way and successfully commits two more females who are currently awaiting trials to determine if they will be declared sexual predators.

Crystal Hoffman, 19, and Karla Baker, 25, have both been targeted by state attorneys for civil commitment. Both women were convicted of sex crimes against children.

But aside from the reduction in per capita costs should these two women be committed, a larger problem exists where to house them. Officials from the Department of Social and Health Services, which runs the Special Commitment Center, say the small rectangular building which currently houses only McCollum, is not large enough to accommodate three women. "That's one of the bridges we haven't crossed," said Anthony Avenson, residential care manager for the sex offender program.

Although McCollum, Hoffman and Baker have been convicted of the same type of sex crimes that men commit, treating them is a different matter altogether, mainly because society perceives women as victims of sexual assault rather than the perpetrators of it. This leads to many females who are in need of treatment not receiving it, and to women like McCollum, Hoffman and Baker not receiving the treatment they need to be released from the sex offender program.

Because little research has been done on female sex predators, little data exists on how to treat them, says Florence Wolfe, a certified sex offender treatment provider in Seattle. "I still struggle with what's an appropriate treatment plan," said Wolfe. "We don't have any tests for females (like plethysmographs for males). (But) it isn't just a matter of getting the right piece of equipment,"

Because McCollum agreed to be civilly committed, the state has yet to successfully convince a jury to civilly commit a woman. In the twelve years the program has been running, five women were referred for commitment, but so far only three have met the criteria.

Source: The Seattle Times

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