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California Has Difficulty Placing First Released Sexually Violent Predator

The California Department of Correc-tions (CDC) released its first civilly committed sexually violent predator (SVP) in August, 2003, after he had "graduated" from seven years of rehabilitation at Atascadero State Hospital (ASH), CDC's lockup unit for SVPs. A large public outcry against his court-ordered release resulted in his eventual, but still contested, placement in a house-trailer on state prison grounds in Soledad, California.

Brian DeVries, 44, molested at least nine boys. His known offenses began in 1978 in New Hampshire, where he molested the 5-year-old son of his landlord. While on probation, he sexually assaulted three boys aged 8, 10 and 12. In Florida, he molested four more boys, finally ending his career with an 8-year-old boy in San Jose, California. He completed his last prison sentence in 1997 and was committed to ASH under California's Welfare and Institutions Code § 6600 et seq. (1996 SVP law).

Under the SVP law, one must be reviewed for [supervised] release at least every two years, based upon psychological evaluations and subject to a court or jury trial. DeVries took the unusual step in 2001 of voluntarily having himself surgically castrated to reduce his sexual urges, subsequent to which he was approved for release in San Jose by Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Robert Baines. But strong community protests caused the court to seek a lower profile site - 116 locations were considered. Since DeVries' father lived in rural Mason County, Washington, the court decided to relocate him there. But upon vigorous complaints from Washington's Governor Gary Locke and Attorney General Christine Gregoire as well as from California authorities, Judge Baines reconsidered when it was pointed out that DeVries would "skate" virtually unencumbered by California's strict release restrictions if situated in Washington.

The eventual solution was to house DeVries in a state-supplied trailer placed on prison grounds at the Correctional Training Facility, a CDC prison near Salinas, California. Nearby Soledad townsfolk vigorously protested. But under mounting pressure from DeVries' attorney Brian Matthews, who asserted DeVries' liberty interest, a court ruling on September 22, 2003 finalized the prison grounds location. For weeks, TV cameras followed DeVries' every move from the trailer.

California's expenses did not end with DeVries' release. Projected to spend close to $1 million on doctors, therapists, monitoring and other services so DeVries can live in the outside world, the California Department of Mental Health (DMH) contracted with privately owned, for profit Pennsylvania-based Liberty Healthcare to create the supervised program for De Vries and 400 other SVPs presently locked-up at ASH who could follow him. Liberty Healthcare's duties include his continuing psychological treatment, keeping him within bounds and keeping him away from playgrounds and schools. DeVries is fitted with a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) -tracked electronic ankle monitor and is subject to regular drug and alcohol tests plus polygraph examinations. DMH's $792,000 one-year contract with Liberty Healthcare, supplanted by prosecutorial and police efforts bring costs to $1 million. However, after this initial start-up program, DMH Deputy Director John Rodriguez estimated annual SVP costs would be about $180,000 per head.

Housing sex offenders is a national problem. After ten years in Airway Heights prison near Spokane, 70-year-old child molester Richard Chadderdon now lives in a tiny basement apartment in downtown Seattle. While happy to be off the streets, he lamented "You are branded. You are a carrier of the plague." Being released from prison does not end the fear of reprisal for sex offenders. Steve McColm of the Corrections Department's Community Justice Center in Tacoma leads weekly support meetings for released (non-SVP) sex offenders. [Washington has not voluntarily released any of its civilly committed SVPs yet. All six releases have been the result of court orders.]

Minnesota is seeking to use less prison-like settings to house and reintegrate its 200 SVPs. The current program was criticized by a state hospital review board as too coercive and punitive. Minnesota's $20 million per year Sex Offender Program has released only one prisoner to a half-way house in its 11 year existence, but he was returned in 2003 after absconding. Minnesota annually adds a dozen new SVPs to its caseload, at a cost of $310 per day each. But cost is not a concern. By executive order, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty declared that no SVP may be released unless ordered by a judge. While constitutional questions remain as to whether SVPs can be held in confinement even if they refuse treatment, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled they have at least the same rights as other state psychiatric patients.

Treatment brings no guarantees, however. A rapist who gained U.S. Supreme Court relief towards his release [Kansas v. Crane, 534 U.S. 407 (2002); PLN, Aug. '02] was recently rearrested. Michael T. Crane, 44, awaits trial for a possible life sentence in Kansas City, Missouri after a DNA match connected him with a March 22, 2003 attack on a woman in her car. Previously sentenced to 35 years to life in Kansas for kidnapping, rape and three counts of forcible sodomy, Crane had his convictions overturned by the Kansas Supreme Court in 1996 and his term reduced to 3 - 10 years for aggravated sexual battery. While Kansas wanted to keep him as an SVP, the Supreme Court ruled that unless authorities could prove Crane would have serious difficulty controlling himself, he could not be held. Kansas reevaluated Crane and released him in January, 2002.

Nationally, the whereabouts of supposedly-registered sex offenders is a joke. It has been reported that California has lost track of 33,296 of 70,631 ex _cons required to voluntarily register under Penal Code § 296 - 14,000 of whom have been lost for five years. But because failure to re-register is now a felony in California, "lost" registrants are not motivated to come forth. Ironically, the fear of these known sex offenders unmonitored in the community will only fuel the public hysteria against release of properly monitored SVPs.

Sources: Minnesota Star Tribune, Seattle Times, New York Times, Fresno Bee, Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury, San Francisco Chronicle, Associated Press.

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