NY State ATSA Letter to Members of the New York State Assembly, Senate, and Joint Conference Committee, and Others Regarding Proposed Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) Legislation

NY State ATSA Letter to Members of the New York State Assembly, Senate, and Joint Conference Committee, and Others Regarding Proposed Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) Legislation

The following is a letter dated May 30, 2006, sent by NYSATSA to the stakeholders named above.

Dear New York State Legislator: We are writing to implore you to not pass an SVP bill without further study. We are attaching a position statement adopted by the Board of the New York State Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (NYSATSA) in January of this year advising that a multidisciplinary commission be formed to further study this problem along with a copy of a recent New York Times op-ed by John LaFonde and Bruce Winick, two of the nation’s leading authorities on SVP legislation.

Important reasons for not passing a bill at this time include the following:

1. Financial: Without very careful planning and integration into a system of sex offender management, an SVP program will do little more than warehouse offenders, at roughly 10 times the cost of a prison bed (prison beds nationally cost on average $22,500/inmate per year, and ATSA estimates a cost of $250,000/inmate per annum for New York State). After a recent legislative breakfast that involved discussions of this proposal, assertions were heard to the effect that “1000 offenders would be committed by such a proposal within two years.” This would mean for the people of New York over a quarter of a billion dollars per annum in expense, devoted to a population which will only increase and obligate more expenditures with each successive year.

Furthermore, both bills being considered, as well as many passed by the various states in the 1990’s, were based on the State of Washington’s SVP statute. In the State of Washington’s 16 years of operation, of 220 individuals committed, only 13 have been released into the community. If one were to apply this same rate of release, roughly 1 per year per 200 individuals committed, extended to “1000 offenders” this would mean 5 offenders would be released per year, at a cost of, taking the above figures, $50,000,000 per offender released per year. These offenders would still have to be subject to conditions of extensive monitoring and parole that are expensive and even now inadequate.

This is patently not cost effective.

2. Lack of Control of Costs: While legislators may think that costs can be controlled, federal class action suits can impose penalties and mandates for treatment that are very expensive. The State of Washington was recently fined $8,000,000 and ordered by a federal judge to provide community placement and treatment modalities. Moreover, once created, such programs are virtually impossible to disband and tend instead to grow and obligate more and more of a state’s budget.

3. Many States Have Chosen Not to Pass or Are Questioning Existing SVP Statutes: Sixteen of the seventeen programs now existent in the United States were passed in the 1990’s. Many legislatures, such as in the State of Maine, have considered this legislation and not passed it for economic and other reasons. Moreover, existent programs are being called into question. The State of Florida in its 6 years of operation has released only 1 of 825 individuals, which prompted The Miami Herald to call for an inquiry. Kansas has questioned the efficacy of its program, suggesting that longer prison terms may be a better approach. And a loophole was found in California’s SVP program which allowed 54 individuals committed to go free.

4. SVP Statutes Divert and Obligate Funds Which are Needed for Other Programs or Could Be Better Spent to Address Problems of Sexual Violence: An inpatient SVP program diverts funds from other vitally needed probation or parole programs and makes other treatment, programs, and placement difficult. Only 10% of sexual crimes are committed by individuals who have committed previous sex crimes, and 95% of victims know their victimizer. Thus, all of the funds devoted to an inpatient SVP program will target only a few offenders who are unlikely to be released in any event. SVP programs thus create a false sense of confidence and divert funds and energy from other public health efforts to decrease sexual violence that are more likely to have an effect.

5. These Statutes Lack Empirical Support: There is no demonstrated effect of these programs on sexual crime rates. Statistics documenting their efficacy are uniformly lacking.

6. Professionals Who Work With Sex Offenders Say This is Not What Is Needed: The major professional organization in New York State that represents the opinions of sex offender treatment providers, with a membership from both the field of mental health and of corrections, has opined that the New York State SVP options being considered are not what is needed. Other measures, such as longer sentencing, lifetime probation/ parole, or tough conditions of mandated treatment are more useful and important.

7. These Statutes Do Not Always Work: Heinous sexual crimes continue to occur despite SVP statutes in states with SVP statutes. The actuarial sciences that underlie risk assessment are imperfect.

8. Sexual Violence is a Complicated Problem and Newer Legislative Approaches to It Should be Carefully Studied: Some states and countries are considering or have enacted forms of civil commitment alternatives or comprehensive measures for monitoring and treatment of sex offenders and other offenders and these approaches merit further study.

Such policies are, however, enormously complicated, which is why we have suggested that a commission be formed to take on this task. The definition of what is dangerous, the design of the commitment scheme, and many other aspects of such laws affect the number of individuals committed or released, which in turn affects the cost of such programs. SVP programs should be very carefully designed and worked out in advance rather than left to a last-minute happenstance political compromise which could result in a law with an unexpected design and thus with unexpected results and costs.

9. It Would Be Financially Reckless to Pass Such a Program Now. To do so would obligate the next administration and the people of New York for years to come in a scheme that it is our opinion is certain not to work. We would thus implore you to establish a commission that could review this proposed legislation and all of the experiments and alternatives in depth and create a forward-thinking law that would endure and be more effective than what is now being contemplated and even serve as a model for others to emulate. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Richard B. Krueger, M.D., Vice-President
Kenneth J. Lau, LCSW, President
For the Board of Directors of NYATSA

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