Florida’s Civil Commitment Center a “Living Death Sentence”
According to state officials, the Florida Civil Commitment Center (FCCC), which holds up to 720 residents billed as the worst sexual predators in the state, is necessary to ensure public safety. For Correct Care Recovery Solutions, a spin-off company of the GEO Group, one of the nation’s largest private prison contractors, it’s the source of $272 million in revenue.
Twenty states have laws that allow for the involuntary and indefinite civil commitment of sexually violent predators (SVPs), but only Florida has turned the operation of its commitment center over to a for-profit contractor.
“Florida is the only state whose entire SVP program is being run by a private company,” said Shan Jumper, president of the Sex Offender Civil Commitment Programs Network. “A few other states contract out pieces of their operations (psychological treatment or testing, community release supervision) to private companies.”
Moreover, Florida involuntarily commits more people than any other state (California ranks second). A new law that increases the pool of offenders Florida can consider for civil commitment will likely increase the number of FCCC residents. To accommodate the anticipated influx, state officials are considering adding a new wing at FCCC or converting a prison to handle the overflow.
A law signed by Governor Rick Scott doubled the mandatory minimum sentence for rape involving children younger than 12 years old; the law also extended civil commitment eligibility to offenders serving jail sentences.
FCCC held 650 residents in April 2014, and of those 72 were awaiting trial to determine whether they would be civilly committed. Under Florida law, upon completion of a jail or prison sentence for any crime, a person who previously committed a sexual offense may be considered for civil commitment under the Jimmy Ryce Act. The Act was named after a nine-year-old boy who was raped, decapitated and dismembered by Juan Carlos Chavez in Redland, Florida; Chavez was executed by lethal injection in 2014.
If the Florida Department of Corrections, Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the State Attorney’s office believe an offender may commit another sex crime, they can be sent to the FCCC to await a commitment trial. As reported by PLN, a cottage industry of experts has developed to determine whether a candidate for civil commitment is likely to commit another sex offense. [See: PLN, Feb. 2015, p.44].
The wait for a civil commitment trial can be excruciatingly long.
“I saw guys that were in there eight, nine, ten years and never saw the inside of a courtroom, and if the state has their way about it, they won’t,” said a former FCCC resident identified only as David, who spent 4½ years at FCCC. “Everything they’re doing, based upon what I know about the law, is violating every constitutional right.”
According to David, the FCCC experience is tough. “It’s like a living death sentence,” he stated. “You just function from one day to the next.”
While state officials take their time adjudicating civil commitment cases, Correct Care Recovery Solutions, following GEO Group’s lead, works to ensure that it achieves maximum profitability.
After a high-profile escape and riot at the original FCCC in Martin County, state officials entered into a contract with GEO and moved the facility to Arcadia. [See: PLN, Sept. 2007, p.20; Nov. 2006, p.13]. The contract, signed in 2006, extends to 2019 and is worth $272 million.
Contract oversight reports by DCF have consistently found that FCCC is understaffed and employees are not sufficiently trained. There were at least 45 job vacancies at the civil commitment center between January and May 2014, the majority (30) for mental health treatment workers.
The staffing shortfalls continued through at least early 2015. According to DCF reports, more than 20 treatment positions and several dozen security positions were vacant at FCCC during December 2014 and January 2015.
In March 2016, Florida news station WFTV aired a report critical of conditions at FCCC, highlighting concerns raised by an article in the William Mitchell Law Review entitled, “Study on the Efficacy of the Sexually Violent Predator Act in Florida.”
Perhaps more disturbingly, the WFTV report focused on claims made by FCCC residents that they had easy access to marijuana, tobacco and pornography – including child porn. In April 2015, FCCC resident David Buzingham, 61, was convicted of possession of child pornography on a flash drive in his room at the facility. He was sentenced to 100 years in prison.
Some residents who spoke to WFTV stated their belief that the contraband was being smuggled into FCCC by Correct Care employees.
In 2012, Governor Scott awarded the State of Florida Governor’s Savings Award to the GEO Group for its “commitment to fiscal responsibility by implementing bold and innovative cost saving business practices while increasing the effectiveness of state government operations.”
How the company saved the state money while charging Florida taxpayers $102.28 daily per FCCC resident, plus $18,333 per month for additional clinical therapists, was not addressed by the governor. In contrast, it costs around $50 a day, on average, to house a state prisoner.
The Governor’s Savings Award has since been discontinued.
But at least GEO Group and its subsidiary, Correct Care, are profiting handsomely by operating the Florida Civil Commitment Center. For example, according to GEO’s 2008 annual report, between 2007 and 2008 alone the company increased its revenue from FCCC by $2.6 million due to an increase in the facility’s population.
Sources: www.nbc-2.com, www.america.aljezeera.com, www.grassrootsleadership.org, www.jacksonvillecriminalattorneyblog.com, www.wftv.com