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Wisconsin Civil Commitments a Major Expense

When the Wisconsin Legislature first passed the Sexually Violent Persons Law allowing for civil commitment of certain sex offenders who had served all of their prison sentences, the additional expense was expected to be minimal. Today's reality proves that such a prediction was overly optimistic. Currently, there are over 360 civilly committed sex offenders confined indefinitely at the Sand Ridge Treatment Center in Mauston. The cost of those civil commitments exceeds $42.6 million each year.

The population of civilly committed sexual predators increased from 5 in 1994 to 113 in 1996, peaking at 389 in 2008, before stabilizing at around 360. The cost of treatment has dramatically increased as well. It cost $8 ,000 per year to treat a civilly committed sexual predator in 2001. By 2012, the annual cost had risen to $149,012. Despite the exploding costs associated with civil commitment, no one is complaining about the expenditure.

"This money is necessary to spend to keep these people locked up," according to Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-keenah. "It is costly and it is expensive to house them. (Sand Ridge) is a very high-risk secure facility and it's cos ly to operate. But my constituents have never told me that this is money the don't want to spend. I think we've become accustomed to the fact that the public wants to be protected from these individuals. They don't want thes people released into the community.

"It's a necessary evil."

Rep. Patricia Strachota, R-West Bend, who chairs the committee exami the criteria for supervised release and discharge of civilly committed s offenders, agrees.

"This is a public safety issue," said Strachota. "I don't think a price tag can be put on public safety as it relates to individuals who have been committed under Chapter 980 (the law relating to civil commitment of sex offenders). I don't think cost is a consideration when you look at whether an individual is ready to be discharged.

These are horrendous crimes that have been committed."

Civilly committed sex offenders are considered to be at "extraordinary risk" to commit a new sex offense if released. Nonetheless, there are provision in the civil commitment laws allowing then to be released under supervision or discharged if treatment is successful. They are allowed to petition for supervised release annually. If released, they are monitored using tracking devices and parole and probation officers.

Thus far, 97 have been placed under supervised release and 68 discharged since the civil commitment law took effect in 1994. Deborah McCulloch, Sand Ridge's director, said that the rate of reoffending is about 5%.

"While they are under supervision, it's about 2 percent, after discharge, it goes up to about 5 percent," said Dr. David Thornton, Sand Ridge's director of treatment. "That's very much less then you would expect."

To keep the number of committed low and ensure that only those sex offenders who are dangerous are civilly committed, the Department of Corrections screens sex offenders being released from prison. Of 1,156 screened, 16 were referred to prosecutors for possible civil commitment.

Many of the civilly committed do not cooperate with treatment programs. They often are bitter and feel as if they are being punished for potential future crimes or diagnosed with a fabricated mental illness. however, this attitude virtually disqualifies thew for supervised release or discharge. Thus, the cost associated with civil commitment of sex offenders in Wisconsin continues to increase.


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