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Washington Civilly Committed SVPs Entitled To Less Restrictive Alternative Than McNeil Island

In a brief opinion, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a decision by the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington which required a "less restrictive alternative" facility to be established for civilly committed sex offenders other than at McNeil Island.

Vance Cunningham is one of many sex offenders civilly committed as sexually violent predator (SVP) pursuant to RCW§ 71.09. Several brought suit in 1992 challenging the conditions of confinement. In 1994 the plaintiffs prevailed on their claim of inadequate mental health treatment. An injunction was entered, a special master appointed, and years of battling to enforce the injunction ensued. The defendants settled damage claims and ultimately had the injunction dissolved and avoided paying $10 million in contempt sanctions by finally improving the adequacy of the mental health treatment. See Cunningham v. Weston, 180 Fed. Appx. 644 (9th Cir. 2006).

In this particular ruling, the district court had relied upon the opinion of a court appointed expert in ordering the defendants to provide a less restrictive alterative treatment center somewhere other than at McNeil Island. The Ninth Circuit found no abuse of discretion. See: Cunningham v. Special Commitment Center, 56 Fed. Appx. 393 (9th Cir. 2003).

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Related legal cases

Cunningham v. Weston

Cunningham v. Special Commitment Center