Senator Flanagan Announces Agreement On Civil Commitment

John J. Flanagan

March 01, 2007

Senator John Flanagan (2nd Senate District) announced an agreement between Governor Eliot Spitzer and both the Senate and Assembly regarding civil commitment that would enhance the security of our communities. This agreement would give the state the ability to place sexually violent predators who still pose a threat to society in a secure state mental facility for the purpose of continued rehabilitation at the conclusion of their prison sentence.

"This is legislation that I have been proud to support in the Senate for years and I am applaud Governor Spitzer for bringing everyone together. The reality is that sex offenders have an extremely high-rate of recidivism and we make our state safer by restricting their ability to roam our streets," stated Senator Flanagan. "Repeat sex offenders are an unnecessary danger to our children, our families and our communities and this agreement is a sensible approach to ending their ability to cause additional harm."

"We must do all we can to protect society from individuals who prey upon innocents," said Governor Spitzer. "This legislation will improve our ability to identify and properly confine the most dangerous sexual predators, while also expanding supervision and treatment of all sex offenders."

This agreement will enable New York State to join the close to twenty other states, including New Jersey, California and Massachusetts, that already utilize civil commitment to protect the public.

"This announcement is very promising because the major players are working together. This first step will most likely lead to the passage of a civil commitment for sexually violent predator law this year," stated Parents for Megan's Law Executive Director Laura Ahearn. "Civil commitment provides assurance to our community that the most violent of predators will be off of our streets and confined to facilities where they will not pose a risk to public safety. Further, these predators will be provided the support services they need to ensure that when they are released they will no longer pose a risk."

The rate of repeat offenses by those who commit sexually violent offenses is extraordinarily high. According to a New York State Department of Correctional Services report, for the period from 1986 through 1995, approximately 49 percent of sex offenders who were released from New York prisons in 1986 were returned to prison for a violation of parole or for committing a new crime.

Under current law, these offenders are released into the community when their prison sentence is finished without any consideration of the danger they pose to society. Combined with the fact that existing programs in state correctional facilities are unable to fully address this problem, many of these predators are eventually released without the benefit of effective treatment and continue to pose a threat to our communities.

The agreement reached this week would provide the necessary treatment for sex offenders and simultaneously extend greater protection to the public. Under the terms of the agreement, sexual offenders who are approaching release will be screened initially by mental health professionals. Those professionals will decide whether there is evidence of a mental abnormality that may cause them to commit sex offenses in the future.

After this determination, the issue would be subject to a jury trial that must conclude with a unanimous decision. A judge would then determine the most appropriate form of management from two different choices - either civil confinement for the highest-risk offenders or strict and intensive supervision for those who pose a lesser risk.

In addition to establishing the new civil commitment program, the new legislation provides for the following:

> Mandatory treatment for all sex offenders – both during incarceration and after release;

> Longer periods of parole supervision for sex offenders;

> Establishment of a new crime of sexually motivated felony; and

> Creation of a new Office of Sex Offender Management in the State Division of Criminal Justice Services, which will develop comprehensive policies and standards for the evaluation, treatment and management of sex offenders.

The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the involuntary civil commitment of dangerous persons who are unable to control their behaviors and whose mental illnesses render them a grave risk to the public health and safety.

"This constitutional sound approach will allow New Yorkers to avoid a great deal of pain and fear and will make our state safer. The primary focus of our laws must always be protecting our residents and this agreement adheres to that overriding principle. The fact that it also delivers additional rehabilitation at the same time makes this agreement truly meaningful and historic," concluded Senator Flanagan.