No Exit for Sex Offenders in Missouri

     ST. LOUIS (CN) – A Missouri “rehabilitation” program commits sexually violent predators to a center where they are “warehoused without treatment” indefinitely, due to the state’s “systemic failures,” a federal judge ruled.
     Missouri’s Sexually Violent Predators Act of 1999 created the Sex Offender Rehabilitation and Treatment facilities, or SORTS, to which about 200 people have been civilly committed in the belief they might reoffend.
     SORTS residents had already completed prison sentences for their crimes.
     In 2009, SORTS residents filed a class action claiming the SVP Act is unconstitutional because it violates the Due Process clause. The class pointed out that no offender had ever been released from SORTS in the program’s 16-year history.
     On Friday, U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig ruled that the SVP Act is constitutional, but not in how it is applied.
     In a 60-page ruling, Fleissig wrote that the SORTS program failed to perform annual reviews in accordance with the SVP Act; failed to properly implement any program to ensure the least restrictive environment and failed to implement – or even design – the community integration phase of the program; and failed to implement release procedures.
     “The Constitution does not allow defendants to impose lifetime detention on individuals who have completed their prison sentences and who no longer pose a danger to the public, no matter how heinous their past conduct,” Fleissig wrote.
     Trial evidence included a memo from former SORTS Chief Operating Officer Alan Blake, which suggested that 24 SORTS residents could be released to lower security cottages, and the top five residents could easily pass a test showing they could live close to others without harm.
     “The residents identified in these emails as presenting a lower risk, due to their treatment progress or their age and infirmity, were not informed that SORTS officials had identified them as candidates for conditional release,” Fleissig wrote. “Nor was their lower risk mentioned in their annual reviews in 2009, including annual reviews written by Blake just days after he sent these emails. Rather, the annual reviews of these residents in 2009, and for years thereafter, stated that the residents continued to meet the criteria for commitment and should not be conditionally released.”
     Four of the aged and infirm residents identified in the memo have died in SORTS.
     “As nearly every witness who testified in this case agreed, these systemic failures have created a pervasive sense of hopelessness at SORTS that is undermining what little improvement the SORTS treatment programs have made,” Fleissig wrote.
     Attorney General Chris Koster’s spokeswoman Nanci Gonder said Koster was reviewing the ruling and would not comment.
     Fleissig set a Sept. 29 hearing for the next phase of the trial: seeking a remedy.
     “We hope to work with the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Mental Health to fix the program and start releasing the people who have successfully completed treatment, which is what the statute is all about,” plaintiffs’ lead attorney Eric Selig told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
     Missouri is one of 20 states with laws that allow post-sentence civil commitment of sex offenders. In June, a federal judge in Minnesota found that the indefinite commitment of sex offenders there is unconstitutional.

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