Wisconsin taxpayers pay a steep price — $51.2 million this year — to keep sexual predators off the streets.
But there is no public clamor to cut funds for the secure treatment facilities that hold those deemed sexually violent, even at a time when state finances are heavily strained.
"It's a price that people are willing to pay," state Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, said. "These are the worst of the worst and they have a high probability to re-offend."
The annual cost per offender at Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center in Mauston — which provides specialized treatment to convicted sex offenders who have been civilly committed under the predator law — is $142,334, said Beth Kaplan, communications specialist with the state Department of Health Services.
That figure dwarfs the $31,806 annual per inmate cost in the state's adult prison system. The disparity is due mainly to the wide variety of psychiatric-based treatment and programming methods in place at Sand Ridge.
Kaufert doesn't take issue with the ever-rising cost of treating sex offenders under Wisconsin's predator law. When Sand Ridge opened in June 2001, the annual cost per offender was $87,000.
"I think the Legislature and the general public don't really look at the cost of housing these individuals," he said. "The cost to keep those individuals away from society is something I've never heard anyone complain about."
- So why don't you impose a tax on all tax payers, make them pay some amount per month to help with the costs? When it hits their pocket books, then you can bet they will be complaining! Everyone is okay with stuff, as long as it's perceived they are not footing the bill, which they are.
Kaufert said legislators don't decry the cost of housing predators "because no one wants to appear that they are being lenient on sex offenders," especially when they are facing re-election.
The number of sex offenders who have been confined under the predator law is much higher than predicted, which has further added to the costs, Kaufert said.
In addition to the 280-plus offenders being held at Sand Ridge on a monthly basis, another 90 or so are regularly confined at the Wisconsin Resource Center near Oshkosh. The estimated cost to operate Sand Ridge this year is $40.6 million, and the cost to operate the Resource Center is estimated at $10.6, Kaplan said.
"It was estimated when it started that there would be a small percentage of sex offenders meeting the criteria (for civil commitment) and the overall cost wouldn't be that great," Kaufert said. "Now, we have seen the numbers climb. But you can't put the genie back in the bottle."
- Well, as long as you think you can't, then you can't, but you can always put the genie back in the bottle.
Measuring the effect
The high cost of keeping sex offenders confined beyond their prison-release dates poses a question in the mind of Gene Bartman, supervisor of the Appleton office of the State Public Defender.
"I would think (the state) would want to do a study on the cost-effectiveness, now that we have more than a decade of experience with this type of commitment," said Bartman, who has represented defendants in predator cases.
"There is inherent in the process the claim that people are able to predict the chances that someone will re-offend. So there ought to be the ability to determine whether or not the increased amount of money being spent per patient is an effective use of public funds."
Bartman understands the reasoning behind the creation of the sexual predator law.
"There is probably not a scarier issue than the notion that someone's child may be abused," he said. "And there's been a number of highly publicized, terrible incidents involving people with (criminal) records and what they've done to children. The reality is that those kinds of events have a lot to do with driving public policy. I'm not surprised that a very large investment is put forward for things that people are extremely afraid of."
- What about someone's child being killed by a drunk driver, drive by shooting, or some other criminal? Why do they not have an online registry?
Still, Bartman believes that the system of confining sex offenders indefinitely should be examined.
"I'm not prepared to condemn the program, but I don't know the statistics. Nobody wants their child to be at risk, but I don't know if there's proof that this particular program and the millions spent on it is giving the kind of security that people want. That's why a study should be done."
Winnebago County District Attorney Christian Gossett was taken aback at the high cost of keeping sex offenders in mental health facilities.
But he said it is money well spent.
"We're talking about the most vulnerable segment or our population — children," Gossett said. "Generally, the public is willing to do what it takes to protect children."
- Not so, if that was the case, we'd have gang members, murderers, DUI offenders, drug dealers, and all other felons on an online registry. It's easy to single out sex offenders, but why not all the others? If you really wanted to protect children, and society, then we'd have everyone on a registry, and everyone must submit DNA upon birth.
Gossett said those who are confined under the predator law pose a risk to communities if they are released.
- Also not true. Some, if not most are, but some are not a threat, but were confined by biased people who fear anybody labeled a sex offender.
"The big problem with the type of people who get the commitment is they are people who can't be treated. There's not really a cure for it. (Releasing them) is what people fear the most."
- Again, not true. Anybody can change, if they want to, and if you give them a chance. But, when you think like this person does, then nothing will be resolved!
Kyle Christianson, policy-research analyst with the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, a private government research organization, said the public appears to be highly supportive of spending tax dollars to keep sex offenders in custody.
"Most of the criticism is with (incarcerating) the non-violent offenders," Christianson said. "(Citizens) are more willing to let go of (them)."