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Santa Maria Sun / Commentary

The following article was posted on March 13th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 1 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 1

The reality of sex-offender designations and treatment

It's difficult to talk about--but it's important to do so

BY JOYCE E. DUDLEY

In recent months, there have been several references in the media to the term “sexually violent predator” (SVP) and the fact that my office has sought to stop someone who has been found to be an SVP from being placed in our county as a transient.

Many community members have asked me about the designation—SVP—and how they are different from “sex offenders.” The short answer is: SVPs are the worst of the worst sex offenders. Less than 1 percent of registered sex offenders living in California communities have been found to be SVPs.

All SVPs have been convicted of a sexually violent offense, and usually multiple offenses—often rape or child molestation—and all have been sentenced to prison. While they’re in prison, the Department of Corrections makes a preliminary assessment as to which of these prisoners, by virtue of a mental disorder, would be deemed unsafe for release back into the community. Mental health experts are then appointed, and full background investigations and assessments are conducted. Assuming the prisoner has a serious enough conviction, these experts then look for a mental disorder—often paraphilila (which sometimes means a compulsion to commit sexual offenses) or pedophilia (sexual interest in children).

Should the experts find a mental disorder and further find that the disorder renders the prisoner unsafe for release to the community, they then ask the district attorney to file a petition with the court requesting a trial to decide whether the prisoner is a “sexually violent predator.” If the judge or jury decide the prisoner is an SVP, then—and only then—is he (there are very few women SVPs) given that designation, which is reviewed by the court or jury every two years unless the SVP stipulates to another two-year incarceration.

As a result of being given that designation, the prisoner’s future is changed; instead of being released from prison after he has “served his time,” he is committed to Coalinga State Hospital, a secured facility in Central California largely reserved for sex offenders. There, treatment is available for him, although many of the patients decline treatment.

Treatment can take years. It has five phases aimed at recognizing and controlling high-risk behaviors through cognitive behavioral therapy. Some patients have been in treatment for 10 years or more without reaching stage five; some have been released.

Often when released, they go into outpatient care where they live in controlled settings and continue to receive treatment. There, they are monitored closely and often are required to wear GPS devices that record their movement. Sometimes they are simply being released. A number of them end up homeless. It is my belief that being released as a transient (homeless) is inconsistent with the public safety concerns of everyone.

Law enforcement personnel need to know where the SVPs live and how they live to ensure their compliance with the law and to ensure public safety. The SVP needs stability, supervision, and treatment to reduce the possibility of committing another offense.

If, at some point, the medical professionals conclude a patient no longer meets the requirements for an SVP commitment, and the court agrees, he then goes back into the community, subject only to the requirement that he register annually with law enforcement.

This annual registration is consistent with what is required of a “sex offender.” A “sex offender” is someone who is convicted of any sex offense, including some misdemeanor sex offenses in which the only punishment administered is a short term on probation.

Most of us would prefer not to engage in a conversation about sex offenders. Their crimes are often loathsome, but it is only through educating ourselves that we are in the best position to protect our most vulnerable victims.

Joyce E. Dudley is district attorney of Santa Barbara County. Send comments to the executive editor at rmiller@santamariasun.com.