CIVIL COMMITMENT IN CALIFORNIA
The following articles contain information and opinion, and are provided to aid persons in making decisions related to the SVP commitment process. There is also information relating to conditions of confinement both in the county jails during legal proceedings and at Coalinga State Hospital ("CSH"), along with statistics to aid in decision making.
The articles can be located on the Internet at the following address:
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS FROM PERSONS AWAITING SVPA
Due to Senate Bill 1128, and the voter initiative known as "Jessica's Law," both passed in California in 2006, many prisoners who once thought they would parole at the end of their prison terms are now facing civil commitment proceedings. They have many questions about what to expect and what it is like at Coalinga State Hospital ("CSH"). Enough have written for information that I have decided to make this information available on the Internet for their families and friends to download.
QUESTION: Should I transfer to CSH while awaiting trial, or should I remain at the county jail?
Transferring to CSH is highly recommended while awaiting trial. The main reason for this is you will be able to glean a wealth of information and see what is really going on for yourself. Beyond that, although conditions at CSH could be better, they are not as bad as rotting away in a county jail. The main problem at CSH is poor medical care. If you are reasonably healthy and don't have an existing medical condition that requires specialized attention, you will be fine at CSH.
The law, Welfare & Institutions Code ("WIC") § 6602.5, does require that probable cause has been found before you can be sent to CSH. You must be a "6602." (Welfare & Institutions Code § 6602). Your attorney should know the process. There are 6602s who have been at Atascadero State Hospital ("ASH") and then at CSH for more than eight years while awaiting trial in LA County.
QUESTION: What is the realistic probability of graduating through the phases of treatment?
Presently, approximately 75 to 80 percent refuse to participate in the phase treatment program. The reasons are numerous. The main thing people observe, is that in ten years of operation the treatment program has not released one person. The eight who have been released all won that battle in court. Even when the treating staff recommends release, the DMH itself opposes the release in court. The news over the past few years shows that those who were released suffered ridiculous release conditions. The last one, who was released through the courts in Ventura County is living in a tent.
Doctor Gabrielle Paladino, a psychiatrist at Atascadero State Hospital stated, "The odds that a participant will be judged suitable for release are greater than 100 to 1. Those who decline treatment and seek judicial release stand a better chance of winning their freedom. In over a decade since the law was introduced, only four men completed the program and were released. Fifty-four from Atascadero have been released because of decisions made by judges, juries or county prosecutors. Fourteen because a medical evaluator determined they no longer fit the sex-predator criteria and twelve because the D.A. withdrew the commitment petition." Source: The San Diego Union Tribune, Monday, May 22, 2006, By Dana Littlefield, Staff writer. The last line of this article states, "San Diego prosecutors have opposed all releases."
Former Governor Gray Davis and Stephen Mayberg, Director of the Department of Mental Health sent letters to the courts to block releases of those completing the treatment program.
QUESTION: Will being in treatment help me at trial?
Howard Zonana, a Professor of psychiatry at Yale and an A.P.A. spokesman said, "[SVP laws] are not an attempt to gain treatment or anything close to that ...what it really is, is an attempt to extend prison sentences."
Maria Mayer, a Contra Costa public defender, compares the predator law to the 2002 film "Minority Report," in which people were imprisoned for future crimes envisioned by women with a gift for prophecy. "I don't think anybody can predict the future. It's all kind of voodoo to me. It's a preemptive strike against the sex offenders. To lock up these people before they do it again. We have lowered the standard so much that we are locking up people who probably won't recommit because of a few who might." Source: San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, July 11, 2004. By Jim Boyle, staff writer.
Many critics within the field of psychology attack the S.O.C.P. program as unproven, a drain of public funds and a sham that uses mental health as a cover for a politically driven program designed to punish society's most despised criminals. "They are using a psychiatric facility to pursue a legal end," said, Mark Graff, a San Fernando Valley psychiatrist who led efforts by the California Psychiatrist Association to oppose the sexually violent predator law. "There are a lot of questions about whether these men can be treated and to the state; I don't really think it matters. The law is about punishment, punishment, punishment." Source: Contra Costa Times, Tuesday, October 10, 2006. By Guy Ashley.
Many defense attorneys still advocate that their clients get into treatment. These attorneys typically are unaware of the Catch 22 nature of joining the treatment program. They mistakenly believe that a client who is in treatment is easier to defend. In reality, it hasn't worked out that way for most. The therapy sessions have no confidentiality. Thus, the defense benefits from being in treatment are often overshadowed by the information the prosecutor gleans from treatment records and presents to the jury.
For example: The Phase Treatment Program has recently started requiring participants to sign an Informed Consent Release allowing the State to video tape sessions, including sessions where the patient is required to look at dirty pictures and masturbate on camera. Some district attorneys have already stated they will subpoena these tapes and show them to the jury. The public defenders in San Diego County have been telling their clients that if they sign that release they won't be able to get them out. Consequently, there have been a number of people who have dropped out of treatment.
There is a theory that 6602s, that is persons who have had probable cause found but have not yet been committed, may gain a defense advantage through limited participation. When this type of person has been sent to DMH while awaiting trial, it may be advisable for the person to attend the Phase One information groups. But only if they regularly attend the Phase One group, and do not sign any contract and advance to Phase Two. They must also be very careful not to discuss their case details, and not provide anything useful for the prosecution. The advantage in this is it will take away the prosecution's tactic of claiming the person is not amenable to treatment.
QUESTION: Should I get into the treatment program?
This is a personal decision that every individual must make for himself. However, neither the release statistics nor the recidivism statistics favor treatment. Furthermore, California's program in particular is held in very low esteem by professionals world-wide.
These statistics may be incomplete, but they are very close. A database maintained by the editor of Echoes of the Gulag shows that of the 245 released since 1996, only 33 were in the treatment program. Of those in treatment who were conditionally released, only one has been discharged. Of the 8 in treatment who actually were conditionally released, 4 have been returned. Of the 245 released, 11 sexually reoffended and 16 reoffended with non sexual offenses. Thirteen have been castrated, and 9 of those have been released. There are 2 listed in the statistics as released by court order, but who have not actually been released yet due to the State's inability to obtain housing for them.
The treatment program is actually referred to as "Phase Treatment" by most, making those in treatment "Phasers." This colloquialism came about because the Sex Offender Treatment Program ("SOTP") is divided into five phases, with Phase 5 actually being conditional release. If you have watched the news, you may have seen how much fun those eight guys have had, e.g., GPS monitor on one ankle and an alcohol monitor on the other, vigilante mobs after them, run out of town several times thus no place to live. The most recent is Ross Wolfschlager, who I believe is number eight. He was released in Ventura County, where Liberty Health Care, the contractor that DMH pays $1.8 million per year to provide for and supervise those on conditional release, was unable to find housing. They then bought him a tent and he is living in a river bottom. It was big news in the media during the last month of August, 2007.
It has taken most of those released through the Phase Program a time in excess of eight years. There are several in the program who have been participating for that long, or more, and are nowhere near completion. The bottom line is that most are not willing to spend that many years in a treatment program that the statistics show makes them worse than those who never participated in treatment in the first place. Furthermore, those few that do get released have no life whatsoever as briefly described above. Where is the incentive to join such a program? If and when the program starts showing some reasonable release statistics, in a reasonable time frame, then and only then will people consider joining. Until then, the odds of achieving release are statistically far better via court action for those who have never participated in treatment.
A study by a group of researchers headed by Dr. R. Karl Hanson, Senior Research Officer for the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness in Canada, found that treatment programs for sex offenders have little effect on rates of recidivism. Dr. Hanson is one of the world's foremost experts on sex offense recidivism. Through his research, Hanson developed the "Static 99," an actuarial tool, for the Canadian Government to use in determining appropriate treatment and housing for sex offenders based on risk factors. This system of predicting reoffense risks is now heavily relied upon by California's Department of Mental Health ("DMH") evaluators when assessing sex offenders for incarceration and treatment under the State's Sexually Violent Predator Act ("SVPA"), a civil commitment law.
The Hanson study reported the surprising finding that offenders who refused treatment were at no higher risk for sexual reoffending than offenders who started treatment. The Hanson group concluded that, "some offenders may realistically conclude that they do not require treatment," and "the current results ... are a challenge to evaluators who routinely use `treatment refusal' as a poor prognostic indicator." (See R. Karl Hanson, et al. First Report of the Collaborative Outcome Data Project on the Effectiveness of Psychological Treatment for Sex Offenders, published in "Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment," Vol. 14, No. 2 (April 2002)).
"...one of the few authoritative studies of the relapse prevention method, conducted in California from 1985 to 2001, found that those who entered relapse prevention treatments were slightly more likely to offend again than those got no therapy at all. Clinicians who work with sex offenders cling to relapse prevention nonetheless and its durability speaks volumes about the troubled, politically fraught science of treating sex offenders. Not only is relapse prevention of questionable value, but so are the tests to gauge whether sex offenders in treatment still get inappropriately aroused. The drugs used for so-called chemical castration and the methods of predicting the risk of re-offending." Source: New York Times article by: Abby Goodnough and Monica Davey.
"It has never been regarded as legitimate and recognized topic [Relapse Prevention] for research by psychologists." Said Robert A. Prentky, Director of Research at the Justice Research Institute in Boston, MA. "There is a very strong undercurrent of disrespect for this area of research and perhaps even skepticism, frankly."
Laws (2003), concluded that "the application [of relapse prevention] to sex offenders involved making what seemed at the time to be small alterations to the original model, but which contained serious faults that have rendered it not very useful over the long term." (Pg. 28).
Thornton (1997), asserts that relapse prevention may actually be counterproductive because it makes deviant behavior too visible and too tempting by constantly focusing on the specifics of offenses.
QUESTION: What are the conditions like at CSH, e.g., visiting, personal property, housing, rules, telephones, etc.?
The visiting at CSH is very similar to visiting in most California prisons. CSH is located on the grounds of Pleasant Valley State Prison. Thus, visitors coming to CSH get a double dose of screening. They must first pass through the CDC screening, and then through the CSH Department of Police Services ("DPS") screening. The visitor must arrive sufficiently early to allow for this lengthy process. As when visiting any jail or prison, heaven help the visitor who has any "wants or warrants!" Such a visitor will go to jail.
Unlike prison visiting, visitors may bring food into the visiting room at CSH. Yes, they really do allow food, and you may have your family bring your favorite food. However, they do not allow any beverages to be brought into the visiting room - just food. Beverages must be purchased in the vending machines. The vending machines have both beverages and food.
Once inside, the visiting rules are essentially identical to those at most prisons. One notable exception is that the individual being visited is not subjected to a strip search. He is only subjected to a pat-down search.
Remember, CSH is a state facility run by bureaucrats making it subject to a change in policy at some one's whim. Always have your visitor call ahead to confirm current rules and visiting hours.
QUESTION: Are the housing units at CSH single man rooms or open dorms?
The housing units were designed with ten single rooms and ten four-man dorms on each unit. They recently converted a treatment room to into a dorm for three. That brings the total population to 53 per unit. Some people are assigned to single rooms for medical reasons, and the rest are based on seniority. The wait is generally a little less than two years on a fully occupied unit. When one goes out to court, and returns, he goes back into a dorm and on the bottom of the waiting list for a single room.
QUESTION: What about personal property at CSH?
There is a constant battle going on over personal property. Most of this relates to the DMH being used to dealing with patients who are developmentally disabled, criminally insane, etc. - persons with true mental illnesses who cannot handle most personal property without direct supervision. Very few people committed under the SVP laws actually have any kind of true mental illness or disorder. Most are normally functionally people who are in reality simply political prisoners of the State of California. Because they are the highest functioning group that the DMH has ever had, the DMH has been unprepared for their demands. Thus, the battle for normal property rages on.
For example, inmates in the prison system are allowed to own a pencil, they are even allowed to own a set of colored pencils, calligraphy pens, ink, and other art materials. Not in DMH. Can't be trusted with something so dangerous as a pencil! Pens and ink are totally out of the question. Patients are allowed a ball point pen. Until very recently, it was the same type of small flexible pen as allowed in most county jails and prison Ad Seg units. The battle that rages on finally netted approval for one particular type of BIC pen ball point pen. This progress took two years. Much like the year it took to be allowed shoe strings for one's shoes. No personal clothes are allowed except for tennis shoes.
On the other hand, there is some property allowed that would never be allowed in prisons. Such as Nintendo Game Boys, Nintendo DS, PSP Portables, DVD Players, and PDAs. Personal Notebook Computers were allowed, but presently there is a moratorium on allowing any more, and threats of confiscating those that are now at CSH.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: The food system utilizes the same type of re-therm process as most of the newer California prisons. The resources in general are inadequate. CSH is having trouble serving less than half its population capacity. It is becoming a nightmare as the population increases. There is no main yard. The buildings are pretty. They have won many architectural awards. But they are not functional, and they are filthy! Everything is too small. There is a serious staff shortage. No one wants to live and work in the toxic area known as Coalinga. Valley Fever is epidemic, There is one patient who was diagnosed with the avian flu, and no one can explain where he contacted it.
This information will be updated as changes occur and more questions are asked.
Tom Watson 9/2007
Tom Watson Writings - Index
Three Strikes Legal - Index