Senator Flanagan Applauds Signing Of Civil Commitment

John J. Flanagan

March 16, 2007

Senator John Flanagan (2nd Senate District) today applauded Governor Eliot Spitzer for signing civil commitment into law. This new law, which Senator Flanagan sponsored in the Senate, will 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 a huge step forward in the fight to protect our children and our communities. With the high-rate of recidivism of sex offenders, the state must have the ability to provide additional rehabilitation to those who pose a threat to our communities," stated Senator Flanagan. "Civil commitment will offer a responsible and realistic option for dealing with sex offenders and I applaud Governor Spitzer for bringing everyone together on this important issue."

"Civil commitment will provide greater protection for children and families throughout New York by taking the most violent and dangerous sexual predators off of our streets and placing them in facilities where they can get the services they need. This is a tremendous victory for communities, and everyone involved should be commended for their decade long commitment to passing this law", stated Laura Ahearn, Executive Director of Parents for Megan's Law and the Crime Victims Center.

This law will provide needed 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 which will apply in cases where a sex crime was unsuccessfully attempted; 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 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 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.

New York State, when this law becomes effective on April 13, will join the close to twenty other states, including New Jersey, California and Massachusetts, that already utilize civil commitment to protect the public.

"Upheld by the constitution and utilized by other states, this law will offer greater protection to all New York residents. And while its primary focus is on protecting our communities, the fact that it provides some very needed rehabilitation to sex offenders will mean good things for everyone. This is truly an historic event in New York’s fight against sex offenders," concluded Senator Flanagan.