Sexually violent predators locked up, but not in prison
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Sexually violent predators locked up, but not in prison

Date: December 10, 2013
By: Christina Turner
State Capitol Bureau

Missouri locks up its violent sex offenders, but not all stay in prison. In part one of a two-part series, Christina Turner looks at the state's program for who it deems the worst of the worst.
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Wrap:In the United States, people are only supposed to get locked up for crimes they've committed.

Yet almost 200 men in Missouri are being held in mental hospitals, not for what they've done, but for what they might do in the future.

Actuality:  SORTS1.WAV
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Description: "They've served their time, they maxed out on their prison sentence. So to keep them in civil commitment without giving them treatment is absolutely punitive."

That's Christopher Cross, the legal guardian of a mentally disabled sex offender.

The program he's describing is Sex Offender Rehabilitation and Treatment Services, or SORTS program.

It's civil involuntary commitment for sex offenders that the state classifies as sexually violent predators.

St. Louis University Law School Dean Mike Wolff served on the Missouri Supreme Court for 13 years.

He says the U.S. Supreme Court rationalized preventive detention based on the theory that medical treatment could reform sexually violent predators, allowing them to return to the community.

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Description: "But if they're not there for treatment and there's no possibility they'll get out, then I'm not sure that the rationale for civil commitment is really met."

He says prosecutors can override recommendations that review teams make about whether or not a sex offender should be civilly committed.

If given a civil commitment trial, offenders have the right to a jury, but Wolff says that doesn't necessarily help their chances.

Actuality:  SORTS10.WAV
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Description: "Any lingering doubts that this person might or might not be dangerous, I think most people would say keep them in."

Bob Reitz is the director of psychiatric facilities for the Department of Mental Health.

He says making former prisoners involuntary patients allows medical professionals to treat them so they can re-enter society without jeopardizing anyone's safety.

Actuality:  SORTS3.WAV
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Description: "That would be the goal, for these people to eventually remain in the community under supervision, or if the judge makes the decision, to be fully discharged from the program."
But since the program started in 1999, no SORTS patients have been discharged.

Hal Lowenstein is an attorney with Armstrong Teasdale in Kansas City.

The St. Louis Federal Court appointed his St. Louis office to handle a lawsuit in federal court against the state and the Department of Mental Health.
As one of the litigators on the case, he says the intent of the lawsuit is to find out why no one has progressed out of the program.

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Description: "The fact that nobody has crossed the finish line out of all these people who've been involved really kind of tells the tale that once you're there, you're there."

In the almost 15 years that SORTS has been around, 17 people have died from old age or illness.

Only four people have been given conditional release without discharge.

No SORTS patient has successfully appealed their placement, and no one has been released.

In my next report, I'll speak to people with close ties to the SORTS program and its patients.

Reporting from Jefferson City, I'm Christina Turner.


This is part two of a two-part series on Missouri's sex offender civil commitment program. Christina Turner talks to people with close ties to the SORTS program and its patients.
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Wrap: Christopher Cross is the legal guardian of a mentally disabled sex offender.

He says one of the ways the state gets people into the SORTS program is by forcing sex offenders like his ward to confess guilt to allegations.

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Description: "The state doesn't care what the evidence is, the state doesn't investigate anything. They just see that an allegation is made and as a result of that, the offender has to confess guilt."
According to Cross, Missouri courts say it's therapeutically beneficial to confess to allegations because it gets guilt off the offender's chest.
Actuality:  SORTS4.WAV
Run Time:  00:13
Description: "Just because the state slaps a label on a program as being therapeutic does not mean it is therapeutic. It just means that's what the state is saying it is to make it look like it's constitutionally correct."
He says confessions could be used against his ward if a civil commitment hearing comes after prison.
Marty Martin-Forman runs Fulton State Hospital where 75 of 199 SORTS patients are being held.

She says several patients contesting their placement in SORTS have not participated in treatment to avoid appearing guilty.

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Description: "For some, they were involved in appeals and things like that, and upon advice of attorney, the attorneys did not believe it was in their best interest to be engaged."

Martin-Forman says patients' progress is gauged by their participation in things like group psychotherapy, recreational therapy and work therapy.

Former Lieutenant Governor Kenneth Rothman says you can't be too careful when dealing with violent sex offenders.

Actuality:  SORTS11.WAV
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Description: "We have to have a balance. Yeah, we owe these people some help if we can give it to them, but we really owe the people who would be innocent victims if they were released."

In 2012, a Missouri Supreme Court judge said that of the five categories of felony offenders in Missouri's correctional population, sex offenders have the lowest rates of recidivism.
Reporting from Jefferson City, I'm Christina Turner.