Thursday, September 26, 2013

James Ridgeway: How 'civil commitment' enables indefinite detention of sex offenders. One Viriginian Challenged the System and Won

I decided to post this article about the process to civilly commitment those deemed by the state of Virginia as a Sexually Violent Predator (SVP’). If the state is successful then the inmate is transferred from the prison to the Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation in Burkeville, VA for indefinite "treatment".
Today Galen volunteers with National C.U.R.E. and is a member of the Virginia State Chapter in Northern VA. 

By James Ridgeway    September 26, 2013 
How 'civil commitment' enables indefinite detention of sex offenders
Many sex offenders are held indefinitely past their sentence on a recidivism assessment that's almost impossible to challenge

Most people would think that once you have served a jail sentence, you are free to go. But that's not always the case.

When it comes to sex offenders, a number of states and the federal government have laws that allow them to keep you in jail, simply because they consider you a potential recidivist. Through a legal procedure called "civil commitment", you can be classed as a sexually violent predator based solely on the subjective opinion of a state-employed psychologist or sex expert.

Once placed under a civil commitment, you are essentially in prison indefinitely. This can quickly become a nightmare, particularly in instances such as an "agreed disposition'' – similar to a plea bargain in a criminal trial – where a person may have been pushed to waive his right to appeal (pdf) during negotiations.

No one knows for sure how many sex offenders there are in the US, but well over 747,000 people are listed on registries. Some are, indeed, pedophiles, but one third of offenders have committed their crime as children. The recidivism rate for sex offenders in general is low, with government statistics showing the rate at around 5%, versus 60% for all criminal activity.

The topic, especially with the Ariel Castro horror in Cleveland fresh in everybody's minds, is charged with emotion. There is little regard for sex offenders in the justice system: defense lawyers are loath to take a case before a jury, fearing instant conviction, and judges often can barely hide their disgust should they render a decision at a bench trial.

So, the Virginia case of a young gay college student named Galen Baughman is all the more remarkable. Baughman gambled with his future when he decided to take his case before a Virginia jury. Yet, amazingly, he won.

Baughman had been a college student in the early 2000s at the University of Indiana, studying to become an opera singer. He was sentenced in a Virginia court in 2004 to 30 years in prison for "aggravated sexual battery" and sex with a minor (aged 13-15), after having been charged initially with soliciting sex over the internet and disseminating indecent materials to minors. Baughman claimed the sexual encounters were not forced.

The judge suspended part of the sentence; even so, Baughman spent nine years in prison – half of that time in one sort of segregation or another, despite serving his sentence without any infraction.

In 2007, just as he was looking forward to release, Virginia officials unexpectedly informed Baughman that they believed he might qualify for civil commitment. In June 2009, Virginia authorities decided this was indeed the case. Without filing any additional charges, they held him in prison for a further 25 months in order to assess his behavior.

One day, a psychologist arrived at the prison, and said he wanted to interview Baughman to determine whether he was a sexually violent predator. Baughman said he would be glad to answer questions but wanted an attorney present. At that, the psychologist left, never to return.