How to Exit California's Sexual Predator Prison: Refuse Treatment
by John E. Dannenberg
California, with 538 sexually violent predators (SVP) civilly committed at its Department of Mental Healths Atascadero State Hospital (ASH), has an efficacious five-step psychological treatment program to prepare its wards for reentry into society. The problem is that the program is so arduous that only four prisoners have ever graduated. However, another 54 SVP's were released as of December 2005 who chose a more viable alternative: refusing treatment. These men took their chances on simply going before a court every two years for a determination as to whether they were still too dangerous to be released. Absent any new indicia of dangerousness, these 54 escaped unanimous jury findings that they should be recommitted.
Its Better Not to Be Treated
Ironically, after release, the treated suffered harsher lifestyles than the untreated. An ASH graduate is placed on strict parole supervision, with a GPS ankle bracelet, quarterly registration requirements, and lots of publicity as to his placement and whereabouts. Any minor infraction will result in immediate reincarceration at ASH.
But a court-released SVP must simply register annually, and no public (Scarlet Letter) notification is made as to his location. The process of untreated-release involves convincing state psychiatrists that the predators are unlikely to commit a new offense. Some have been deemed so old or infirm as to not be a risk of reoffending. When there is doubt, a jury is asked to make that determination, every two years. Still, fully two-thirds of the 54 underwent no treatment at all.
The 2006 ASH post-release record shows that 11 of the 54 are back in custody, three for sex-related crimes. Another ten left the state to gain the benefit of less stringent monitoring requirements. Seven more have died, and three are missing, having not met their registration requirements. By contrast, of the four who graduated from treatment, one has been released-from monitoring and another was returned to ASH after only two months.
A major advantage of being released via the courts and not from treatment is that SVP's names are not distinguished from Californias 63,000 other Internet-listed sexual registrants. But the Sacramento Bee undertook a detailed investigation to uncover the whereabouts of all 54 court releasees. The Bee published their names and photographs in a three-part series beginning February 16, 2006. It found four living in San Francisco. When queried, San Francisco Police Inspector Jim Zerga said that policy dictates only that neighbors be notified that a high-risk sex offender has moved into the city, but not where. With this protection, many predators simply fade back into the communities.
Three more were found living in Sacramentoone only 0.3 miles from a day care center. This illustrates another advantage of the non-treatment release option: only the treated (and hence parole monitored) are restricted from living within 2,000 feet of a school or child care center.
Of course, if the offender leaves California, his whereabouts becomes even more attenuated. A 63-year-old retired mechanic and child molester now lives in Oregon, one of two states where sex-offender information is not posted on the Internet. His San Francisco Bay Area victim lamented, I dont think a person like that can ever be healed. ... Youre always going to do it. I dont feel that theres reform for it. Similar fear has fomented varying remedies in different locales. Washington state sequesters its worst offenders on a island off Tacoma. Iowa bars offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school.
In spite of the clear benefits of gaining court-ordered release in lieu of treatment, in August 2005, California opened a new $388 million mental hospital in Coalinga, which can house 1,500 SVPs. Current civilly committed SVPs at ASH are scheduled to be transferred there. Since the program was initiated in 1996, over 6,200 SVPs have been evaluated, 538 of whom have been committed.
Monitoring Is Spotty
The commonly admitted goal of released SVPs is anonymity, so that they can just rebuild their lives. The media is their worst enemy, threatening at any moment to suddenly blow their cover and once again put hounds on the heels of the fox. The public is so focused on vigilantism against sex offenders that SVPs remain perpetual pariahs. When one SVP retired to Arizona, and authorities notified residents that an SVP was moving in, six neighbors sold their condos and moved. The SVP told reporters he would never set foot in California again, adding that if given the choice between ASH and prison, he would choose prison. He is bitter that California violated his rights by incarcerating him at ASH after he had served his prison sentence for his crimes. Ventura County prosecutor David Lehr, who handled his commitment proceedings, called this now successfully relocated SVP the first one Id be concerned about. His sole monitoring is to register annually in Arizona.
The four ASH graduates, Brian DeVries, Cary Verse, Patrick Ghilotti and Matthew Hedge, bore an incredible barrage of public scorn and threats when they were released. Hostility from neighbors in Salinas, California, caused prison authorities to rehouse DeVries in a trailer on the grounds of nearby Soledad State Prison. After completing the program, he left the state, where media spotlights followed him to his new rural Washington State home.
Cary Verse was hounded by media and thrown out of motels in four counties before sympathetic attorneys gave him cover in a cottage in a gated community in Contra Costa County. To this day, he wears a satellite-monitored tracking device on his hip. He must map out his weekly and daily schedules, even for such mundane things as a trip to McDonalds. If he goes out with friends, they must first sign a chaperone form indicating they know of his past. The costs of his supervision and housing are borne by the state, via its subcontractor Liberty Health Care, Inc.
Patrick Ghilotti came back to Marin County, where he has support from his familys established construction business. Matthew Hedge, like DeVries, was forced out of the community into a prison-based trailer in San Diego County. But after two months, he violated his continuing treatment conditions, so the state obtained a court order for his recommitment to ASH.
Failure Remains a Risk
When Donald Hunt was court-released in 1999 and immediately moved to Colorado, he settled into a new home in Cation City where he began baby-sitting two young girls. In March 2002, he was arrested for molesting them. He had not registered in Colorado, and his sordid past was not revealed until after he was arrested while looking at lewd pictures of the girls on his computer.
After James Rodriguez was released in 2004 to an Indian reservation near San Diego, he burned his satellite tracking device and put it in a truckload of manure. He was later arrested for arson by parole authorities, who also found him in possession of two firearms.
ASH expert Dr. Karl Hanson said that they are reliably able to classify future re-offenders into two categories, those that have over a 50% chance of re-offending, and those who have less than a 10% chance. The higher rate attends those pedophiles who dwell on male children and have had previous trouble with the law. They will likely re-offend within 15 years of release. By contrast, the normal re-offending rate for sex offenders in general is 20% after 10 years.
Treatment Option Is a Major Challenge
For SVPs accepting the treatment alternative (only one in four SVPs do), California spends $138,000 per year at ASH trying to cure their predatory addictions. The four-step in-house program (the fifth step is controlled release) can take many years. Presently, ten candidates are in the fourth step looking towards release. The challenge facing ASH personnel is exemplified by the case of candidate SVP James Lamb.
At age 46, Lamb has been in ASHs treatment program for eight years. Although convicted of molesting five boys, he has admitted to more than 80 victims. Lamb exists in an environment at ASH that tugs both ways. While staff nurtures self-examination and change in both individual and group sessions, other imprisoned SVPs secrete newspaper ads depicting children and even coerce their fellow pedophiles into sexual relations. Theres guys who stalk these hallways, said Tony Iannalfo, a rapist from Los Angeles who has been at ASH for eight years.
Lamb was once married and fathered two daughters, after an adolescence marked by pursuit of prepubescent boys. Recognizing his need for treatment, Lamb has diligently pursued every opportunity offered by ASH. In addition, he voluntarily was surgically castrated. One of Lambs child victims (Ben), now 28, is still haunted by his sexual trauma, and believes that only life-time lockup will satisfy the need for public safety from the likes of Lamb.
Lamb put his own 4-year-old daughter in a bathtub with 6 year-old Ben and began encouraging them into sexual games. He completely overpowered us intellectually, physically, emotionally, Ben related very emotionally to a Bee reporter. Lamb got 18 months in prison for molesting Ben, whereupon Lamb moved to the tiny Monterey County community of Spreckels to become a Boy Scout leader. Lamb was arrested again in 1991 after a neighbor observed him bouncing on a trampoline with a small boy, both in boxer shorts, wherein the 300 lb. Lamb coerced the boy to take his boxers off. Ultimately, Lamb was convicted of molesting both the boy and his 11-year-old brother, whose sex acts Lamb had videotaped.
Back in prison, Lamb made money writing child-porn stories for other prisoners, focusing on the recurrent theme of seducing small boys. When he was paroled from this term, he was arrested weeks later after prison officials discovered a letter he had written to another prisoner describing Internet porn Lamb had acquired. Detectives found on Lambs computer records of Lambs correspondence with the North American Man Boy Love Association, an organization that encourages sex between adults and children. Lamb finally was committed to ASH in 1998.
Treatment Option Is the Harder Way to Go
Part of the treatment includes admitting to ones crimes. This raises a major concern for many would-be treatment candidates. While experts believe that frank discussion of their crimes is key to a sincere desire for change, many SVP patients believe that such open counseling sessions could be used against them in court to cause recommitment. Indeed, it has happened.
Still, Hanson admits that determining which SVPs are just putting on acts still eludes researchers. We dont know yet how to measure whether somebody has benefited from therapy, he said. The only way to find out is in Step Five, controlled release.
Or to simply forget the whole therapy/treatment experiment, keep your mouth shut, and roll the dice on having a court rule in your favor on a statutory biennial recommitment hearing. If you demand a jury, and two juries are unable to unanimously recommit you, the judge must let you out. The score is 54 to 4.
Source: Sacramento Bee.
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