Senator John Flanagan (2nd Senate District) announced Senate passage of legislation he sponsored that would provide for the civil commitment of sexually violent predators at a secure treatment facility after they have completed their prison sentence to protect the public from criminals likely to commit repeated acts of sexual violence. This passage reflects an agreement between Governor Eliot Spitzer and both the Senate and Assembly that was announced last week.
The legislation, which has passed in the Assembly and has been delivered to Governor Spitzer, 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. When enacted, New York State will join the close to twenty other states, including New Jersey, California and Massachusetts, that already utilize civil commitment to protect the public.
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.
Civil commitment 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 Senate approved legislation would establish the following:
> Mandatory treatment for all sex offenders – both during incarceration and after release;
> Longer periods of parole supervision for sex offenders;
> The new crime of sexually motivated felony which would apply in cases where a sex crime was unsuccessfully attempted; and
> 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 is a significant step in the fight to protect our communities. Civil commitment, when it is signed into law by Governor Spitzer, will provide peace of mind to our residents while offering expanded rehabilitation to those who still pose a danger to our society. This legislation has been a priority for the Senate for years and I applaud all involved for coming together for the good of all our residents," stated Senator Flanagan.
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