Sex Criminals Facility Policies Survive Lawsuit

     CHICAGO (CN) - Illinois can restrict socialization and mail delivery to the convicted sex criminals it holds as civil detainees, a divided 7th Circuit panel ruled.
     Under the Illinois Sexually Violent Persons Commitment Act, convicts face a term of civil commitment if they are diagnosed with "a mental disorder that makes it substantially probable that the person will engage in acts of violence." The commitment lasts until such time that the individual is deemed cured.
     The Rushville Treatment and Detention Center divides detainees into six, approximately 75-person units based on their treatment needs. Units are in turn divided into 25-person pods.
     While detainees spend most hours each day in their pod, each unit may go to the gym for an hour and have an hour or two of outdoor yard time each day. On weekends, certain units are allowed to mingle. Detainees also have several hours of group treatment each week that is not dictated by unit.
     To communicate via mail, detainees can pass notes to others in their unit, but they must use the U.S. Postal Service to reach other unites.
     Rushville also lets detainees socialize among all units at bimonthly movie nights, three summer picnics, a band performance and an annual Christmas concert, in addition to chance encounters.
     The state confined Christopher Lane, Kristopher Kras and Timmy Luz to Rushville in 2006 after a Joliet detention center closed. In a federal complaint, the trio took issue with Rushville's in-person socialization and mail-delivery procedures.
     The men claim that the arrangements are too restrictive and contradict the facility's stated goal of teaching appropriate social interactions. They further state that Rushville violates their due process rights by limiting opportunities to associate face-to-face without the input of a health professional.
     Restricted access to Rushville's internal mail system, which is used for staff-to-staff and staff-to-detainee communications, allegedly constitutes a First Amendment violation.
     A federal judge granted summary judgment to the Rushville officials named in the complaint, and the 7th Circuit affirmed Friday.
     The 19-page decision notes that commitment under the Illinois Sexually Violent Persons Commitment Act is civil, and not meant for punishment. "As a general matter, 'persons who have been involuntarily committed are entitled to more considerate treatment and conditions of confinement than criminals whose conditions of confinement are designed to punish,'" Judge John Tinder wrote for a three-member panel.
     In Youngberg v. Romeo, the Supreme Court said that detainees are entitled to "professional judgment" with regard to treatment decisions, but all decisions are not subject to this standard.
     "Many policies and practices at a facility like Rushville reflect what the state can afford, what the site will allow, and what security requires," Tinder wrote.
     "A justified security policy is not, therefore, properly viewed as a treatment program that must be supported by an exercise of professional judgment," he added. "And that is so even if the security policy limits opportunities for treatment."
     But the detainees did not challenge the socialization policy through the lens of security grounds, so Tinder said, "we will not leap to the conclusion that its impact on treatment is enough to make it a treatment decision subject to Youngberg's rule."
     Tinder also found that the mail policy does not impinge detainees rights.
     The complaint with the mail system "is nothing more than a recommendation for the officials at Rushville to consider - a suggestion about how operations at the facility could be improved; it does not state a constitutional claim," he wrote.
     "As maligned as the United States Postal Service may be, there is no First Amendment right to a means of sending letters superior to the one it provides," he added.
     Though Judge Diane Wood agreed with her colleagues' mail findings, she penned a partial dissent that says the detainees could have a case as to in-person association rights.
     The majority's characterization of detainee socialization "masks" a troubling reality, according to her dissent.
     "For all hours of the day except for, at most, four hours, the plaintiffs spend all of their time with the same 25 people (their pod-mates)," Wood wrote (parentheses in original). "Then, for two to three hours per day, the plaintiffs get 'yard' or 'gym' time, which they share with their unit. Practically, during this recreational time the residents' social circle is expanded to include only the other two 25-person pods in their unit."
     Such restrictions indeed run counter to Rushville's rehabilitation goals, she found.
     "This raises a crucial threshold question that the majority's analysis has overlooked: Who is entitled to decide whether a policy is (1) purely related to treatment, (2) purely related to security, or (3) related to both," Wood asked.
     The judge said this claim should have proceeded to trial so a jury could determine whether the facility's clinical director deserves a say in the social interaction policy.