Treatment for rapists, molesters under fire. Cost, legality and effectiveness at issue in extended program

Treatment for rapists, molesters under fire. Cost, legality and effectiveness at issue in extended program
Jim Doyle, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, July 11, 2004

California, in a program whose effectiveness is being questioned, spends more than $75 million a year to lock up hundreds of child molesters and rapists in a maximum-security hospital here after their prison terms have ended.

The cost -- about $400 a day per person -- pays for housing, health care, administrative and court-related costs of 535 ex-convicts who are incarcerated at Atascadero State Hospital in the Sexually Violent Predator Program. The price tag is about five times the daily cost of keeping an inmate in state prison. In a federal court in Los Angeles, a class-action lawsuit is attacking California's implementation of the predator law on the grounds, among other things, that it illegally extends the offenders' incarceration.

Because of court backlogs and extensive litigation surrounding individual cases, about 70 men have been hospitalized at Atascadero for three years or longer without being given a trial before a judge or jury to test whether their extended incarceration was valid. Three men have been held there for eight years without trial.

The population of convicted sex offenders in California is huge: More than 17,000 are in state prisons, and more than 67,000 have served their time and live in communities outside prison walls. But California is one of few states whose prisons offer no significant sex offender treatment programs.

California's handling of its sexually violent predators is facing a challenge by a major Los Angeles law firm, Latham & Watkins, which argues in its lawsuit that sex offenders' constitutional rights are being violated in part by subjecting them to conditions that are often worse than state prison.
Franklin Zimring, a criminal law professor at the UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall, said the issues involved in the incarceration of sexually violent offenders are central to how the society defines itself.

"The true measure of the quality of the justice system is how those who are most detested are treated," said Zimring, adding that the system's failure to provide offenders with a prompt trial "seems to me to be a scandal. But it's the kind of scandal that has very few political costs. No one is going to be successful running for office in this state about the rights of sex offenders."

California focuses on only "a tiny point of the pyramid of sex offenders at an enormous cost," said Eric Janus, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn., and a national expert on sexual predator laws. "We delude ourselves if we think we are locking up all the recidivists. ... (We're) going to miss most of the people who are going to commit more sex crimes."

Attorneys for sex offenders say the predator law was an act of political vengeance against those imprisoned before California's "get-tough" sentencing laws of the mid-1990s. "The intent is to lock these guys up. It's pure and simple," said Sacramento attorney Michael Aye, who has represented sex offenders in the predator program.

Aye insists that many offenders committed their sex crimes decades ago and pose little risk of re-offending. Other defense attorneys say many child molesters committed acts such as touching a child rather than violently attacking them.

"A lot of these guys have been (incarcerated) for 10 to 20 years, and they have changed," Aye said. "The rapists were driven by social and biological factors that are no longer in existence." Aye argues that, at much less cost, the state should provide community supervision and outpatient treatment programs for them.

Ted Donaldson, a psychologist in Morro Bay (San Luis Obispo County) who often testifies for the defense in sexual predator cases, said the program "has more politics and more bad psychology than any other program we've ever had. Most of the people being committed don't have a sexual mental disorder" as required under the law.

Marita Mayer, a Contra Costa County deputy 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," Mayer said. "It's a pre-emptive 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 a few of them might."

Definition: A sexually violent predator is defined by law as "a person who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense against two or more victims and who has a diagnosed mental disorder that makes the person a danger to the health and safety of others in that it is likely that he or she will engage in sexually violent criminal behavior." The law defines "substantial sexual conduct" with a child younger than 14 as a violent crime. full story

Wrongly convicted man reflects on his 20 years in prison

May 6, 2004

BAKERSFIELD – Even murderers and rapists detest child molesters. Behind bars, life can be brutal for people convicted of sexually abusing children – they're the bottom rung, marked men, constantly living in fear. Many seek shelter from other inmates by agreeing to "protective custody," rarely leaving their cells.

Found guilty of 17 counts of child molestation, John Stoll knew he'd never survive with that stigma. So he lied, posing as a drug runner for 20 long years – and somehow avoided attack until his conviction was reversed last week.

Stoll walked free on Tuesday after most of his alleged victims recanted and said they lied about being molested back in 1984.

During his first days in prison, Stoll began researching crimes that could carry a 20-year sentence. He came across a newspaper article about a man convicted of smuggling marijuana and guns. He became that man – "And that's what I was for 20 years."

Stoll, now gray and balding, revealed details of his life in prison as he joined his lawyers for a celebratory meal on his first night as a free man – his 61st birthday. Gorging on filet mignon, calamari, and a chocolate birthday cake, he marveled at his freedom.

Stoll's ability to keep his conviction a secret was "quite remarkable," said Anne Mania, an attorney at the San Rafael-based Prison Law Office, which handles civil rights issues for inmates.
"There's a huge stigma attached to being a child molester so they're often the victims of violence by other prisoners," Mania explained.

"For 20 years nobody stabbed me so I must've said the right things," Stoll said. "I don't know what kept me alive ... You're really walking a fine line in prison because you can't be yourself."
As Stoll sat at the steakhouse dinner table, he cleaned his glasses with his cloth napkin and rubbed his head.

He was a fit man when he went to prison in 1985, a carpenter with strong hands, a full head of dark blonde curly hair and a winning smile. Now, a row of deep wrinkles crosses his forehead, and his gray mustache frames a mouth with just seven teeth remaining. Stoll, who seemingly loves to laugh, lost most of his teeth to gum disease and medical neglect while in prison.

Two Innocence Project groups in California won Stoll's freedom after tracking down his alleged victims and persuading most of them – now adults – to come forward once again.

Stoll was convicted as part of an alleged child molestation ring that purportedly involved sodomy, group sex and pornographic photography. But no pictures were found – in fact, prosecutors presented no physical evidence at the trial. None of the children, ages 6 to 8, were examined by doctors. The case rested on testimony alone. Four of those accusers testified in January that investigators pressured them until they lied. A fifth testified he has no memories from that part of his childhood." full story

Evil: The Quadruple Axel, by Alexander Cockburn

Beat The Devil by Alexander Cockburn
[Excerpts from the March 11, 2002 issue, read full story

"The other day I listened to Marita Mayer, an attorney in the public defender's office in California's Contra Costa County, describe the desolate business of trying to save her clients, SVPs, from indeterminate confinement in Atascadero, the state's prime mental bin."

"In California, as in many other states, SVP laws kicked in in the mid-1990s, crest of the repressive wave provoked by hysteria over child sex abuse and crime generally: mandatory minimum sentences, erosion of the right to confront witnesses, community notification of released sex offenders, surgical and chemical castration, prohibition of mere possession of certain printed materials, this last an indignity previously only accorded atomic energy secrets".
So California passes its SVP law in January of 1996, decreeing that those falling into the category of SVP have a sickness that requires treatment and cannot be freed until a jury agrees unanimously that they are no longer a danger to the community."...

"Mayer's clients, serving out their years in Pelican Bay or Vacaville or San Quentin, counting the months down to parole date, suddenly find themselves back in jail in Contra Costa County, told they've got a mental disorder and can't be released till a jury decides they're no danger to the community. Off to Atascadero they go for a two-year term, at the end of which they get a hearing, and almost always another two-year term. "

"Many of them refuse treatment," Mayer says. "They refuse to sign a piece of paper saying they have a mental disease." Of course they do. Why sign a document saying that for all practical purposes you may well be beyond reform or redemption, that you are Evil by nature, not just a guy who did something bad and paid the penalty? "

"Soon everything begins to hinge on someone's assessment of your state of mind, your future intentions. As with the damnable liberal obsession with hate-crimes laws, it's a nosedive into the category of "thought crimes." "

There the SVPs are in Atascadero [Ed: now they are in Coalinga], surrounded by psych techs eager to test all kinds of statistical and behavioral models, along with phallometric devices designed to assist in the persuasion of judge and jury that, yes, the prisoner has a more than 50 percent likelihood of exercising his criminal sexual impulses, should he be released.

"Thus, by the circuitous route of "civil commitment" (confining people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others), we have ended up with a situation that from the constitutional point of view, is indeed absolutely "Evil": people held in preventive detention or being locked up twice for the same crime.

"It's using psychiatry, like religion, to put people away," Mayer concludes. "Why not hire an astrologer or a goat-entrail reader to predict what the person might do? Why not the same for robbers as for rapists? What's happening is double jeopardy. People don't care about child rapists, but the Constitution is about protections. ...They have to register; they could be hounded from county to county; even for a tiny crime they'll be put away. Their lives are in ruin. I pity them."
full story

August 17, 2007 update:

Memos issued today from administration state that, effective August 20, those detainees participating in the strike for a total of three days will be dropped from the Sex Offender Treatment Program. Detainees will also lose work assignments for participating in the strike. Since the strike began Detainee spokesperson Niles Carr has reported that the Administration has imposed further restrictions on movement and increased punishment, including loss of work assignment, for many participating in the strike. They have also announced that they will disband RPAC (Resident Policy Advisory Council, elected by Detainees). In response, Detainees Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to retain RPAC and its representatives and to stage two days of "non-movement/non-cooperation" scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, August 20-21.

Aug. 16, 2007 Coalinga Update:

Sex offender Civil Detainees in California's Coalinga State Hospital strike to demand civil rights

Former prisoners now being held as Civil Detainees under California's stringent sex offender laws at Coalinga State Hospital have been on strike since August 6 to demand the restoration of rights denied them since their transfer to that facility. Now classified as "Civil Detainees", having served their entire sentences in the Department of Corrections and placed into the custody of the Department of Mental Health (DMH), they insist that conditions under which they are being held are flagrantly unconstitutional and inhumane. They argue that restrictions and privations imposed upon them go far beyond the narrow constraints under which the laws were enacted. The U.S. Supreme Court, while having upheld the constitutionality of state laws detaining sex offenders beyond their prison terms to protect society and treat offenders, insist that such further detention not have the effect of punishing offenders twice for the same crime.

Despite a $400 million price tag, Coalinga State Hospital is now widely viewed as an ill-conceived failure. The strike, its organizers assert, had become necessary in the face of an administration unaccountable to the rule of law or its mandate from voters. Strike participants seek to expose medical and mental health abuses in excess of those in California prisons, tax funding fraudulently misspent and a mission subverted to the career interests of officials.

Staff who express concern with the facility's management and "counter-therapeutic" treatment programs are seen by residents to leave the institution quickly and this, at a time when DMH acknowledges staff shortage as a major factor in its failure. The decision to build in Coalinga has been criticized by State officials due to difficulty in attracting qualified professionals to the area. Staffing is less than half of that required so half of the Hospital's units remain unopened while the other half is overcrowded, an exigency due to severe understaffing. As in State prisons, recreational areas are converted into makeshift dorms while more recent detainees languish in other DMH facilities or county jails awaiting a bed space in Coalinga.

Detainees allege they have been lured into treatment programs with the false hope that they may one day reenter society, saying that in the eleven years since civil commitment laws were enacted, only two castrated Detainees have won their freedom while several others have been placed in residential treatment programs. All of those released were through court order.

Key issues leading to the strike:

  • Clinical assessments are rarely performed on individual Detainees. State evaluators whose recommendations are critical in civil commitment trials spend little or no time with detainees before issuing their reports, relying instead on aging court or police records. Lacking current information, test results, or objectivity, their reports are routinely skewed against Detainees, who see them as merely tools for the prosecution.
  • Abysmal medical care. Life-threatening conditions are often ignored or inadequately treated. Medical staff recommendations for Detainee health are routinely overruled by non-medical staff.
  • Many program staff have quit. Detainees say that, amongst those few clinicians genuinely interested in providing effective patient treatment, many have left due to encroachment by administration and police staff into the management of treatment.
  • Conflict of interest. Acting Hospital Director, Rocky Spurgeon (the third Director in a little more than a month), is a defendant in ongoing Detainee lawsuits dating to before his current appointment. Clearly, Detainees seeking legal redress continue to be under the authority of those very individuals from whom they seek relief.
  • Lack of independent and professional oversight by outside organizations. The Hospital falls short in standards of care and management set by federal guidelines and even by those of California 's Department of Corrections, an agency now under court order to address gross deficiencies in health care, overcrowding, and humane treatment. Coalinga has been left largely unmonitored by either state or federal oversight or by professional organizations, such as the American Psychiatric or Psychological Associations.
  • Many custody police are compelled to enforce punitive restrictions imposed by administrative officials. Mandatory searches of each detainee's property are conducted weekly without probable cause. One police complained that, having previously worked in California's prisons before coming to DMH, he found the conditions in DMH to be far more restrictive than those imposed on inmates in state prison, despite the emphasis received in his training that "this is a hospital, not a prison".
  • Nutritional deficiency and dreadful food quality. Coalinga meals are widely regarded as much worse than state prison food, itself known for poor quality. Staff discard extra food but deny seconds to hungry Detainees, despite ever smaller portion sizes. Nutritious food purchased by family and friends on the outside to send in monthly packages are forbidden but junk food-chips, cookies, candy, and ramen-are allowed.
  • Communication with the outside world. Letters and communications, even those with attorneys, are subject to staff scrutiny. Many believe that staff listen in on phone calls. Staff arbitrarily refuse mail, including treatment and college materials, without notification.
  • Absence of Detainee rules for conduct and rights under an appeals process. There is nothing equivalent to CDC's Title 15 delineating rules to which inmates must adhere or rights which they possess. Nor are there precedents that actions contravening Detainee rights will result in discipline for staff or Detainee remedy. Instead, rules are issued arbitrarily by individual staff as directives, many of which are mutually contradictory and have no legal basis. Rules from one housing unit to the next differ widely, with Unit Supervisors making abrupt policy decisions without accountability to the law or administration. Property room staff, while allowing one detainee an item, will deny another an identical item, even when on an "approved" list. This, combined with the capricious enforcement of rules as a form of harassment, has created an atmosphere of constant uncertainty and turmoil for Detainees.
  • Inmate library consists largely of children's books and juvenile-level materials. Titles featuring "Cinderella" are well represented in the library's collection and Detainees who desire more intellectual reading challenges find no support from staff. Beyond the library, censorship to absurd levels is imposed on all books, periodicals, and other media which the Detainee wishes to buy with his own money. Also, all items purchased by inmates must be ordered through a handful of institutionally approved vendors, a selection process without transparency and one which effectively imposes trade restraints on legitimate vendors.
  • Inmate financial resources, earned as a result of work performed in the prison (averaging about $1.25 a day) are controlled by staff who must approve any expenditure in excess of $100, even if it is cash to be sent to family, and can refuse without explanation. Detainees do not receive interest accrued from their funds.
  • Complete lack of privacy. Detainees have no privacy in any aspect of their daily lives, save for stall doors in restroom toilets, and they are in continuous view of staff and other Detainees. As Justice Louis Brandeis, in his now-famous dissent in the 1928 Supreme Court decision of Olmstead v. United States articulated: "the right to be let alone is the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men." . How is it then that "Civil Detainees", not being held for the purpose of additional punishment, are shorn of this fundamental right of human dignity?
  • Inmates are prevented from experiencing the outdoors or seeing beyond the institution walls. The largest accessible "outdoor" area is a tiny inner courtyard referred to by prisoners as "the terrarium".
  • Despite its stated purpose as a forensic investigatory hospital, DMH has published nothing of their sex offender treatment research in peer-reviewed journals.
  • Detainee family support. Visitors must be approved by administration and can be denied for any reason. There are very few telephones for use by hundreds of Detainees.
  • Bingo, conga drumming, mural painting, and popcorn snacking are often shown in reports to be "treatment" in the continuous challenge staff face in justifying the hospital's existence as a treatment facility. While many suspect outright fraud in these "treatment" expenditures, they have received no scrutiny by State regulators or the Legislature.
  • CDC prisoners , not Civil Detainees, have recently been dumped in Coalinga State Hospital alongside Civil Detainees who, after all, are not there for punishment.
  • On the use of the term "Sexually Violent Predator " (S.V.P.) to describe Civil Detainees. The term "S.V.P." has a meaning under California law quite distinct from that of any reasonable person. As it is now defined, neither actual violence nor coercion is needed for a crime to meet the statutory definition of "sexually violent". The age of the victim, non-familial victims or past convictions are some criteria useful in branding someone " S.V.P." That this definitional shift has occurred during a period of mass hysteria over sex offenders cannot be seen as coincidental. California prisons and state hospitals have been launched on a wave of distorted public opinion.
  • Recidivism rates are no higher for Civil Detainees than for other offenders not detained; between four and six percent. If the state is unable to demonstrate a difference in recidivism rates, then the very existence of the Civil Commitment program is called into question. Public safety would be truly served were funds reallocated to programs demonstrating actual success.

Since the strike began Detainee spokesperson Niles Carr has reported that the Administration has imposed further restrictions on movement and increased punishment, including loss of work assignment, for many participating in the strike. They have also announced that they will disband RPAC (Resident Policy Advisory Council, elected by Detainees). In response, Detainees Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to retain RPAC and its representatives and to stage two days of "non-movement/non-cooperation" scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, August 20-21.


Monday July 30,2007
Daily Express (U.K.)

Detectives will target 130 known paedophiles as part of a renewed drive to protect young children.

Officers from the Metropolitan Police's child abuse protection unit will spearhead the move to target those in the capital who prey on youngsters.

They will proactively disrupt the lives of people who are known to have a sexual interest in children. The work is expected to include unannounced visits and low-key monitoring of paedophiles to check on their day-to-day lifestyles.

Computers and data storage devices may also be inspected by officers looking for evidence of attempts to exploit children online. The plans are contained in a draft serious violence strategy for the force which highlights the need to focus on protecting young people.

Commander Sue Akers said reducing serious violence and looking after young people must be made a core police priority.

Meanwhile, ITV news said a leaked document revealed Government plans to clamp down on sites which fail to protect children.

Earlier this month, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said new guidance would soon be published to help protect children using social networking websites.

The guidance will also help educate parents about what their children are doing on popular sites such as Bebo, Facebook and MySpace. The Child Protection and Online Exploitation Centre (CEOP) is central to Government moves to improve safeguards for youngsters exploring the internet.

The Home Office said sex offenders will soon be required by law to register their email addresses so their online activity can be monitored.

A spokeswoman said: "The UK already has some of the toughest laws in the world to protect children from sexual harm with new offences including an offence of grooming a child online. The Government's task force on child protection on the internet means we continue to work closely with law enforcement agencies, children's groups and the internet industry to ensure the web is as safe as possible for children."

Man says he used Web site to select rapists he killed

"Mullen also said that he had planned the murders for some time and that on July 13, 2005, he had accessed the Whatcom County Sheriff's sex offender Web site, and from that selected at least one of the two victims," according to a police department news release".

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