January 16, 2008

Costly SVP law enriching psychologists without netting more predators

With California children sharing textbooks in dilapidated schools where "riding the bus" is slang for mental illness, California is throwing away an extra $27 million a year evaluating more sex offenders under a new state law that's netting almost no additional culprits.

"Sex predator laws coming up empty" is the headline of that sad story in today's Contra Costa Times.

Under the expanded Sexually Violent Predator law passed by voters in 2006, more than 10 times as many men are being screened for possible civil commitment before being paroled from prison. But this drastic increase isn't radically increasing how many are being civilly committed as a danger to the public, because the old law was already catching most of the real bad guys.

The extra $27 million is only for psychological screenings. It doesn't include the added costs to house the backlog of prisoners awaiting evaluations. Almost six times as many prisoners are being detained at the state mental hospital in Coalinga past their parole dates, at a cost of about $12,500 a month each (more than twice the cost of a prison bed), according to the Contra Costa Times article.

Critics point out that the state has spent more than $1 billion on the SVP program to date, including the cost of building the new hospital in Coalinga, all to get fewer than 600 men off the streets.

Although this might not sound like much of a catch, there's one group I haven't heard complaining: the state evaluators. Some have seen their annual earnings from SVP evaluations and court testimony skyrocket to about $1 million. And that doesn't include their income from other work.

You can be sure that the largely working- and middle-class folks who serve on the typical jury at SVP civil commitment trials raise their eyebrows when they hear about this bonanza.

"It's silly, really,” Doug Tucker, a San Francisco Bay Area psychiatrist who does SVP evaluations for the state of Washington, commented to Times reporter John Simerman. "It's good employment for psychologists, but it doesn't really achieve anything. You're going to get a lot of people who don't have a sexual disorder, who just got drunk."

Photo credit: Rachael (Creative Commons license)

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