November 15, 2007

L.A. Times investigates "Titanic State Hospital"


California's sex offender treatment and detention center in shambles

Two days ago, I posted about the continuing problems at Coalinga State Hospital, California's expensive new detention facility for civilly committed sex offenders. Today's L.A. Times features an in-depth look at the institution's problems. The article, "Breakdown: Turmoil replaces treatment at Coalinga hospital," is written by Scott Gold and Lee Romney, who have been covering California's troubled state hospital system over the past couple of years. Astonishingly, the reporters found a former psychiatric technician from the hospital who was willing to assert on record that many of the men being detained at Coalinga pose little risk to the community if released.

Excerpts of the hard-hitting article follow; the full article (plus a photo gallery) is available online.
Two years after California opened the nation's largest facility designed to house and treat men who have been declared sexually violent predators, Coalinga State Hospital is described by both patients and staff as an institution in turmoil.

Convinced that they stand little chance of being released and angry about perceived deficiencies at the hospital, patients are engaged in a tense standoff with administrators, according to interviews with more than 40 patients and staff members.

… "We're calling it the Titanic State Hospital," said a psychiatric technician who, like most other current employees, spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisal from administrators. "We've lost control. I've been saying for a couple of months now that the monkeys are running the circus."

Patients, meanwhile, are despairing.

"It's hopeless," said Robert Bates, 41, who was sent to Coalinga after serving a 10-year prison term for committing a lewd and lascivious act. "This is a therapeutic setting, supposedly. But it's nothing more than a mock-up prison. They can call it what they want. But it's prison."

… Michael Feer, a psychiatric social worker with more than three decades of experience, worked at Coalinga for a year before leaving this spring. He now works in San Diego County with recently paroled sex offenders, men who in some cases committed the same crimes as those at Coalinga but who are being released into the community, he said.

Feer said that although all Coalinga patients qualify as violent predators on paper, he believes that more than a third of them would pose no threat if released.

"They did their time, and suddenly they are picked up again and shipped off to a state hospital for essentially an indeterminate period of time," Feer said. To get out, he added, "they have to demonstrate that they are no longer a risk, which can be a very high standard. So, yeah, they do have grounds to be very upset."

The hospital, Feer said, "is a setup" - ostensibly a treatment hospital but one built with a wink to a public that has little compunction about locking up sex offenders forever....

Article continues here.