Thursday, January 27, 2011

GA - Sex offenders incognito

Original Article

01/27/2011

By Randy Wyles

The Georgia sex offender registry was created to help keep people safe. But how can it do that if it's riddled with errors?

The wintry calm of an early December day is shattered as law enforcement officers from several local, state and federal agencies storm a house on Greenleaf Circle in southwest Atlanta to find a convicted child molester with an adolescent girl, along with what investigators would later determine to be pornographic "material and devices."

Police knew [name withheld] had a lengthy criminal history that included aggravated assault, family violence and child molestation, and that [name withheld] had just been released from prison in September. They also suspected that the 36-year-old convicted sex offender was in violation of the Georgia Sex Offender Registration law.

[name withheld] was one of 78 people across Fulton and Clayton counties arrested last month in what police termed "sweeps" for failure to provide accurate information to the state sex offender registry. The "sweeps" were part of a joint task force operation conducted by more than 100 law enforcement agents in an attempt to apprehend sex offenders who walk the streets of Georgia incognito — despite the best efforts of a statewide registry created in 1996 to keep up with them.

Tracking sex offenders is an ongoing battle, one that rages both on the streets and in the courts. The purpose of the state's sex offender registry — which contains the names, ages, photos and addresses of tens of thousands of convicted felons — is to equip neighbors with the knowledge necessary to protect their children against potential sexual predators. (Whether such knowledge actually deters crime is the subject of speculation.)

Yet it's entirely likely — even after checking the Georgia Sex Offender Registry — that a concerned resident won't have an accurate idea of the threat on his or her street. And so, while there have been several legal battles about the constitutionality of such a list, a more immediate problem exists: If the list is riddled with errors, what good is it, anyway?

In my 18-year career as a private investigator, I sometimes uncover during the course of an investigation an alleged crime that's gone undetected by police. That's happened in divorce cases I've taken on, as well as teen runaway investigations where a family has hired me to locate their child. On several occasions, the cast of characters I encounter in these probes grow to include drug dealers, pimps, child molesters, sexual predators and convicted sex offenders in hiding.

I've pulled more than a few teenage runaways from the hovel of a known sex offender. In one case, two 16-year-old girls who ran away from their boarding school to "teach their parents a lesson" ended up in the basement of a predator in the North Georgia mountains. They had been there for two days when I discovered the location, got them out and dragged the perpetrator to the sheriff's office.

On another occasion, a post-divorce investigation over court-ordered child visitation led me to a man who operated a "child actor talent agency" out of a "virtual" office in Los Angeles. I discovered he was actually living in a middle-class family apartment complex — with children everywhere — just as the feds were closing in. They confiscated computers loaded with child porn, and my client's attempts to have the man's child-visitation rights revoked was easily granted by the court.

Cases like these made me question the effectiveness of the sex offender registry system.

In more than 100 separate cases I've personally investigated over the past 18 months, approximately one-third of the offenders — all convicted of sex-related crimes and subsequently ordered to register as sex offenders — weren't living where the Georgia Sex Offender Registry indicated they should be. What's more, names often were misspelled and information required by law was missing.

In many cases, I found that a simple check of databases routinely accessible only to law enforcement and licensed private investigators revealed new, current addresses for convicted sex offenders who were still listed under old addresses in the Georgia Sex Offender Registry. Sometimes, the registry addresses were six months to a year old and in completely different areas of Georgia. That meant an offender could have been at a new address long enough to set up utility services — even mail service — yet, still be listed in the state registry at an old address.

In some cases, I couldn't find the offender at all, whether through databases or a physical search.

During the same period, a state audit reached a similar but even more alarming conclusion: The Georgia Bureau of Investigation was not adequately maintaining the registry. In many cases, offender information was out of date even as it was being entered — or was entered incorrectly by state employees.

"The problem is you're dealing with people who've been convicted, primarily, of felonies," says GBI public affairs officer John Bankhead, who points out that it's the local sheriff's departments' responsibility to upload correct information to the state registry. "You're depending on them for accurate information, and sometimes they don't cooperate."

For its part, the GBI only has two dedicated staff members to operate the statewide registry containing information on nearly 20,000 sex offenders, with an estimated 34,000 offenders expected in its database within the next decade.

But the fact remains that the inaccuracies I found weren't an anomaly. In fact, my findings might be conservative.

The arrests following the sweeps across Clayton and Fulton counties last month by the sex offender task force were the result of a compliance check of 105 offenders. Of those 105 violators, a whopping 78 weren't living were the registry said they were. That's more than double the ratio I found in my investigation, which adds up to staggering numbers.

Inaccuracy at the rate of only one-third could mean that more than 6,000 offenders may be unaccounted for statewide. But if those December raids where any indication, 74 percent — or 14,000 — of the statewide population of sex offenders could be operating incognito.

"I feel like it's very much a false sense of security," Sally Sheppard, executive director of the Southeastern Sexual Assault Center and Child Advocacy Center, says of the registry.

Advocacy groups such as Sheppard's stand behind the need for a sex offender registry but admit they can't trust its accuracy. She points to another obvious but sometimes overlooked shortfall of the list: "The majority of sex offenders are not on the registry," Sheppard says. "They've not even been arrested."

The GBI reported that nearly 1,600 sex crimes were committed statewide in 2010, most of them either by first offenders, who would not appear on the registry, or by family members or acquaintances, who are threats that the registry can't protect against.

Sheppard says she's seen these statistics play out. "I would say that 80 percent of those who abuse children are family members or very close people to [the family], because those are the people that would likely be around the children."

In cases of sex crimes involving adult victims, the percentage of attacks where the perpetrators are known to the victims is even higher. And in those cases, the sex offender registry would not have been able to deliver a warning, either.

Laws requiring sex offenders to register with law enforcement have existed as far back as 1947 in California. But the idea of a sex offender registry really began to emerge as something of an emotional "call to arms" with the 1989 abduction of an 11-year-old boy in Minnesota, resulting in the Jacob Wetterling Act of 1994.

The Wetterling Act requires every state to compile a list of those convicted of sex crimes and crimes against children and to provide the list to the public. The law was expanded to include a directive to the FBI to compile and maintain a national database of repeat sex offenders with the enactment of Megan's Law in 1996, named for Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old New Jersey girl who was raped and killed by a known child molester who lived on her street.

In Georgia, legislation was passed in 2006 (HB-1059) to strengthen the then-10-year-old sex offender laws by making it illegal for offenders to live, work or volunteer in areas where children may gather, such as playgrounds, churches or schools. After a period of intense, heated debate and political infighting between the state Supreme Court and the Georgia legislature, the law was amended in May 2010 (HB-571) by the Georgia Assembly to ease some of the requirements placed on offenders. With last year's amendment, Georgia finally adopted a meaningful system for categorizing offenders based on the relative danger they pose to the public. The law now provides for offenders to be divided into risk assessment levels that separate, say, actual rapists from a teenager who may have accepted a statutory rape plea for having sex with his underage girlfriend.

In addition, homeless sex offenders do not have to be responsible for providing a permanent address to law enforcement. In fact, many sex offenders have actually taken to forming compounds in the wooded areas in and around Atlanta — often because they've been forced to leave their homes (including homes they own) and can't find another place to live that satisfies the strict distance requirements.

Sheppard says she can see where severely limiting the lives of sex offenders might infringe on civil liberties and, as a result, impede their attempts at recovery.

"Sometimes, I think [the registry] might actually keep an offender from rehabilitating," Sheppard says. "But we have to know where they are."

The problem of the list's accountability might have less to do with how it's maintained than how it's designed to work in the first place.

The entire process relies heavily on the honor system: expecting individuals who have been convicted of sex crimes to voluntarily register. Many simply don't. That's why, over that past several years, Georgia lawmakers passed legislation that includes more stringent requirements and lengthy prison terms for violators of the law.

In addition to their physical addresses, state law requires that sex offenders hand over their e-mail addresses, Internet passwords and screen names to local law enforcement each year or face prison time. In some cases, violation of this one law alone could mean a life sentence.
- This is not true.  HB-571 did away with the internet identifiers and passwords.

The statewide list of registered sexual offenders is taken from information provided by local county sheriffs' departments, which make a concerted effort to keep their information up-to-date and easily accessible to the general population.

Both the Cobb and DeKalb County Sheriff's Departments have a state-of-the-art database and software tracking system that not only maintains registry information, but will add a concerned citizen to its e-mail list and inform them anytime a sex offender moves to within one mile of their residence or place of business. Concerned parents can even sign up their school, gym, day care, park, or soccer or football field to receive notice if an offender moves into the area.
- They use OffenderWatch, which is known to show false statistics in their presentations.

Cobb County Sheriff's Lt. Tom Hayes says the tracking system also alerts law enforcement when a registered sex offender is booked into jail and provides his department with reminders for keeping tabs on local offenders.

The Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office uses a different tracking system. Simply entering an address will pull up a localized map that pinpoints each registered offender in the area, along with a link to their photo, address and case information.

Fulton County, on the other hand, has a system that's lacking, to say the least.

Searching for information on the Fulton County Sex Offender Registry site can be an exercise in futility. The site requires the name or address of the suspected offender rather than allowing the user to enter the location of a school, home or business and receive information about offenders in the area. In fact, the Fulton County Sex Offender Registry site sends the user directly to the GBI site to search the statewide system for Fulton offenders.

Yet despite the technological advances of some jurisdiction's tracking systems, there's often little that can be done to forewarn victims of sex offenders.

Take the case of 48-year-old [name withheld]. Even though a county tracking system monitored [name withheld], it still couldn't prevent the convicted child molester from striking a second time.

[name withheld] was released from prison last May but was back in the Cobb County jail in June on a probation violation. After his August release, [name withheld] decided to move in November to DeKalb County, where he promptly registered with DeKalb County Sheriff's Office.

The following month, FBI agents arrested [name withheld] at the DeKalb County Probation Office on federal charges of sex trafficking involving a 15-year-old girl.

"The list shouldn't exist," says a convicted sex offender who calls himself "The Angry Offender," or TAO, "because it doesn't make sense."

Sex offenders who fail to register or who submit incorrect addresses are living as fugitives, aware of the very real possibility that they could be caught at any time and face severe prison sentences for evading the list. So, why do they choose to risk prison by remaining just beneath law enforcement's radar? Because they feel it's the only way to survive.

Looking over TAO's website, AngryOffender.com, one quickly encounters a convicted sex offender's predictable reaction to the sex offender registry — but also the understandable frustration with which the list is met. It's not a well-balanced site, but one wouldn't expect it to be.

TAO agreed to answer my questions regarding his or her opinions concerning the sex offender registry, but only on the grounds that his or her identity would not be revealed.

TAO is an offender who feels the concept of a sex offender registry is flawed in that it subjects a person convicted of a sex crime to requirements other convicts are spared. Basically, TAO takes issue with the fact that those convicted of sex crimes must continue to pay their debt to society even after completing prison sentences and probation.

TAO's major problem with the registry, unsurprisingly, is the severity of the punishment when an offender fails to register.

"Under the current system, you may get three months for a count of possession of child pornography, yet you can get 10-plus years for failure to register after that conviction," TAO says. "It's a clear case of the punishment not even fitting the crime."

In Georgia, the offender has 72 hours following conviction or a change of residence to notify the local sheriff of his or her address or face the decade-long prison term. That's the punishment for the first time an offender fails to register. The second offense can be punishable by life in prison. For that reason, many offenders have become transient, avoiding the "permanent address" status and, therefore, the requirement to provide an address to authorities.

TAO adds that the stigma of being on the list, including the inability to get a job or even find a place to move, causes many offenders to withhold accurate information and run the risk of getting caught.

"The law does not engage some unholy force field that pushes each offender directly into the sheriff's office and forces them to give their true information," TAO says. "Enforcement is a very heavily ignored."

It is obvious that several solutions are needed if the registry is to be a viable tool for concerned parents and a deterrent to sex offenders.

One solution is for state and county experts to study the various county systems and come up with a comprehensive system that the GBI can implement statewide.

Extending the technology employed by Cobb and DeKalb counties statewide carries a cost of about $400,000 per year. Unfortunately, the GBI has protested such a move, even though the state's premier law enforcement agency can't handle the load it already has.

The GBI has applied for federal funds to revamp the system, but federal budget cuts (atop state cutbacks) have left the agency staring at a blinking cursor. In the meantime, about 150 new sex offenders are added to the registry each month — with no good way to track them.
- And 99% of them are not dangerous, based on the registry.

Randy Wyles is published author, executive editor of SpecialOpsAndNews.com and a senior investigator for Hunter Investigations LLC, located in Alpharetta. He has worked with local law enforcement as well as under contract to the U.S. Department of Justice.


FL - Do Female Sex Offenders Receive a Lighter Punishment Compared to Males?

Original Article

The judicial system is not sexist? Flip the roles, a male having sex with a 15 year old female, and he'd be in prison.

01/26/2011

Sentencing for an Okaloosa sex offender has sparked a lot of discussion. 31-year old [name withheld] had sex with a 15-year-old boy but she will not be going to prison. The lawyers on both sides of the case insist, when it comes to sex crimes, the judicial system is not sexist.

[name withheld] was arrested back in August 2009 for having sex with a 15-year-old. The boy's family decided not to press charges if the relationship stopped-- but it didn’t. In December, [name withheld] drove more than 100 miles from her home in Crestview to pick the boy up at a drug treatment center in Bay County, where the two had sex again.

[name withheld] was arrested again and charged with 2nd degree felony lewd and lascivious battery. She faced up to 15-years in prison but walked away with just 2 years of house arrest and 3 years of probation.

The case is strikingly similar to one that received national attention back in 2005 when former Tampa middle school teacher Debra Lafave had sex with a 14-year old boy. Lafave received house arrest and probation, but no prison time.

It was a very different case for Tim McGarry. The former Thomas Drive Fire Chief is serving a 40-year sentence for having sex with underage girls. The disparity in treatment makes some wonder if the judicial system is sexist when it comes to sex crimes.

District 1 Chief Assistant State Attorney Bill Bishop says no.

"We don't make any distinction one way or another whether or not someone who commits a sexual offense is a male or a female. We make our decisions based on the evidence we have available and the witnesses we have available to prosecute" Bishop says.

In [name withheld]'s case, the victim would not cooperate with authorities. [name withheld]’s attorney, Jonathon Dingus says gender did not play a role in her sentencing.

"She was treated the same in a scenario like we have here where the complainant didn't want to go through the trial" Dingus says.

Both attorneys agree the outcome for any defendant depends on the case's circumstances.


FBI misconduct reveals sex, lies and videotape

Original Article

01/27/2011

By Scott Zamost and Kyra Phillips

Washington (CNN) -- An FBI employee shared confidential information with his girlfriend, who was a news reporter, then later threatened to release a sex tape the two had made.

A supervisor watched pornographic videos in his office during work hours while "satisfying himself."

And an employee in a "leadership position" misused a government database to check on two friends who were exotic dancers and allowed them into an FBI office after hours.

These are among confidential summaries of FBI disciplinary reports obtained by CNN, which describe misconduct by agency supervisors, agents and other employees over the last three years.

Read the FBI documents obtained by CNN (PDF)

The reports, compiled by the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility, are e-mailed quarterly to FBI employees, but are not released to the public.

And despite the bureau's very strict screening procedure for all prospective employees, the FBI confirms that about 325 to 350 employees a year receive some kind of discipline, ranging from a reprimand to suspension.

About 30 employees each year are fired.

"We do have a no-tolerance policy," FBI Assistant Director Candice Will told CNN. "We don't tolerate our employees engaging in misconduct. We expect them to behave pursuant to the standards of conduct imposed on all FBI employees."

However, she said, "It doesn't mean that we fire everybody. You know, our employees are human, as we all are. We all make mistakes. So, our discipline is intended to reflect that."

"We understand that employees can make mistakes, will make mistakes. When appropriate, we will decide to remove an employee. When we believe that an employee can be rehabilitated and should be given a second chance, we do that."

Will, who oversees the bureau's Office of Professional Responsibility, said most of the FBI's 34,300 employees, which include 13,700 agents, follow the rules.

"The vast majority of our employees do not lie," Will said. "The vast majority of our employees do not cheat. The vast majority of our employees do not steal. The vast majority of our employees do not engage in the type of misconduct you are describing. There is an occasional employee who will engage in such misconduct, and that employee will answer for it."

However, the internal summaries show that even with serious misconduct, employees can keep their job (names and locations of the employees are not listed in the reports):

  • An employee had "a sexual relationship with a source" over seven months. The punishment was a 40-day suspension.
  • The supervisor who viewed "pornographic movies in the office while sexually satisfying himself" during work hours received a 35-day suspension.
  • The employee in a "leadership position" who misused a "government database to conduct name checks on two friends who were foreign nationals employed as exotic dancers" and "brought the two friends into FBI space after-hours without proper authorization" received a 23-day suspension. The same employee had been previously suspended for misusing a government database.
  • An employee who was drunk "exploited his FBI employment at a strip club," falsely claiming he was "conducting an official investigation." His punishment was a 30-day suspension.
  • And an employee conducted "unauthorized searches on FBI databases" for "information on public celebrities the employee thought were 'hot'" received a 30-day suspension.

Will said she could not discuss individual cases, and added: "I can't even confirm whether or not your information is accurate."

She said the bureau follows established guidelines for punishing employees.

"What we try is the holistic approach of the total employee," she said. "You look at the full record of that employee's career. You look at whatever the division has to say about the employee and you look at the facts in the particular case. You look at the employee's disciplinary history as to whether or not they have ever been in trouble. You look at how well they performed in the past, and you try to get a sense of whether or not this is an employee who can be rehabilitated, and if so, a period of suspension is imposed and if not, the employee is removed."

The employee who made the sex tape with the reporter, for instance, resigned before being fired, according to the report.

That employee "misused administrative leave, misused his credentials to get into a night club, misused a government vehicle, provided law-enforcement-sensitive documents to his girlfriend, who was a news reporter, improperly stored secret documents in a hotel room, which were viewed by his girlfriend, and following their break-up, threatened his girlfriend with the release of a sex tape the two had made, which threats she referred to a U.S. attorney's office," the internal summary report said.

Another employee, who used a "video camera to record (a) co-worker changing in (the) women's bathroom," also resigned, according to the report. The employee "lied about his conduct to (a) co-worker and attempted to erase the video when asked to relinquish the camera upon being caught."

And an employee who harassed a "former boyfriend, his mother and his new girlfriend" with "repeated phone calls, text messages, e-mail" was fired, the report said.

"If you lie under oath, you are gone," Wills told CNN. "If you tell the truth --- it's sort of Watergate 101. It's not always the behavior itself that results in a seriously adverse finding. It can just be the cover-up."

Konrad Motyka, the president of the FBI Agents Association, said, "Specifically, demonstrable, incorrect conduct or criminal conduct is not acceptable and never should be. But...our rate of conduct is actually less than in a lot of places, and human beings, being what they are, with the size of the organization we have, occasionally there will be some issues that come up."

Asked if there should be zero tolerance for serious misconduct, Motyka told CNN: "I believe there is zero tolerance for serious misconduct. Once it is adjudicated and proven to be a fact, just as anywhere else, people have the right to a fair hearing to determine whether the facts actually meet the circumstances."

James Wedick, a former veteran FBI supervisor who owns a consulting firm, said the misconduct is an embarrassment to the bureau.

"We are horrified, we're embarrassed. It bothers every official. It bothers everyone who works for the bureau. But law enforcement, the FBI, is made up of men and women. Men and women do make mistakes, and unfortunately, sometimes the mistakes are little bit more egregious than others."

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said the behavior described in the disciplinary summaries obtained by CNN is surprising.

"People in government, particularly the federal government, ought to be the best people that you can ever have, and people want to respect federal government employees. And most respected would be FBI agents," Grassley said.


TN - Wild police party results in rape accusation, suspensions (James Patterson)

Original Article

01/24/2011

By Anna Marie Hartman

MEMPHIS (WMC-TV) - Two Memphis police officers were recently suspended after a wild police party that went out of control and resulted in a rape complaint against an officer.

The party, which was held last August to celebrate a female officer's birthday, went on until 5:00 a.m., and resulted in a criminal investigation against a male police officer.

"(There was) a lot going on at what looks like sort of a loose party to say the least," Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin said.

A party guest, who is not on the police force, alleged that Memphis police officer James Patterson raped her in a locked bedroom during the party.

An internal affairs investigation revealed the alleged victim had consumed seven glasses of wine, six shots of vodka, and two shots of whiskey that night. The guest didn't tell Patterson "no" or "stop" during the act, but later told the officer hosting the party she'd been raped. 

The following day, she identified Patterson in a police photo lineup when she filed a criminal complaint. But during a criminal investigation, Patterson told investigators the encounter was consensual, and his accuser was the aggressor.

The District Attorney's office ruled there wasn't enough evidence to pursue a rape charge.

"Fortunately for him, it ended up not being criminal, but really bordered that line," Godwin said.

Patterson's punishment was a 10-day personal conduct suspension for not practicing ethical decision making when sexual intercourse was initiated by a highly intoxicated stranger.
- So much for holding them to a higher standard, seems to be the opposite to me, also, she was highly intoxicated, and if this were the average citizen, then they'd be in jail for raping someone who is unable to give consent, but hey, it's the "Good Ole' Boys Club!"

"When he's on the job he seems to be focused and doing the things he needs to do," Godwin said.

But Patterson was on the job in 2008 when a female officer he was training accused him of rape and sexual harassment. She later recanted her complaint.

"We found that the other person was untruthful and that person was separated," Godwin said.

Further investigation revealed Patterson was in a consensual sexual relationship with his married trainee. He admitted they'd performed sex acts in front of each other in the public parking lot of a community center. He was suspended for 13 days.

"We've got a real problem here or a real judgement problem," Godwin said.

Patterson's personnel file includes a number of commendations during his eight years on the force, but Godwin acknowledges a pattern of poor judgement.

"You would hope that he's going, 'My gosh, I need to really pay attention with my personal life, and who I'm being intimate, with and things like that,'" Godwin said.

Patterson told Action News 5 by phone he was unable to comment on this story. While he remains within the guidelines of Memphis Police Department standards, Godwin hopes Patterson's latest lapse in judgement at a wild police party will be his last.

"Officers make mistakes, and I hope they learn from them and then they move on, but unfortunately not everybody does," he said.

The officer hosting the party did not call police after Patterson's accuser told her she'd been raped. That officer received a five day suspension for violating the department's off-duty responsibility code.


WA - Lawmakers debate notifications for juvenile sex offenders in school

Original Article

01/26/2011

By JOE FRYER

OLYMPIA - If a juvenile sex offender is attending a school, who should know about it? The principal? Teachers? Parents?

Lawmakers discussed the tough issue during a public hearing in Olympia Wednesday afternoon. Rep. Kirk Pearson is pushing a bill that would require notification of parents, staff and adult students when a juvenile sex offender attends a school. Under current law, only principals and those who supervise the student are notified.

"Notification like this is powerful," Pearson testified. "When you have information like this out, a juvenile sex offender knows they're being watched by people."

But opponents of the bill say such broad notification would make it difficult for the juvenile sex offenders.

"They would absolutely be bullied," said attorney Michele Shaw, who specializes in juvenile sex offender cases.

The focus should be on rehabilitation, Shaw argued, and recovery would be difficult if students learn about a juvenile sex offender's past.

"It would set hysteria and panic into place with parents," she said. "We would essentially have to create a school for juvenile sex offenders."

The recidivism rate for juvenile sex offenders is lower than the rate for adult sex offenders, Shaw said. The re-offense rate for juveniles is anywhere between 3 and 14 percent, according to national studies, said the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration.
- This is not exactly true.  A DOJ study done puts the recidivism rate for adults around 3.5% to 5.3%, so juveniles is lower.

Representative Pearson thinks anti-bullying laws would protect juvenile sex offenders from harassment.

During Wednesday's hearing, lawmakers also heard from people who favor greater notification for teachers and staff, including secretaries and bus drivers. Others expressed concern about having school officials, rather than law enforcement, notify parents about sex offenders.


NY - Confining sex offenders comes at high cost

Original Article

02/13/2011

By Gary Craig

In New York, the end of a sex offender's prison term doesn't mean freedom.

In 2007, spurred in part by a White Plains murder, state lawmakers approved a civil commitment program designed to route dangerous sex offenders into treatment in secure psychiatric facilities or intense outpatient programs after their prison sentences end.

What they may have overlooked were the long-term costs and the likelihood that treatment space could one day become an expensive dilemma.

That day has come.

Only in its fourth year, civil commitment is coping with cost and space strains. Since many offenders who are locked away are unlikely to be released for years, if ever, the costs will continue to escalate.

"I don't know that there was a whole lot of thought (about the costs)," said Al O'Connor, a staff lawyer and civil commitment expert with the New York State Defenders Association. "Probably there were people who voted for this and knew better."

Before the program was even 2 years old, officials from the state Office of Mental Health warned that the "population growth (of committed offenders) will continue unabated for many years and at costs that may well be unsustainable in an uncertain fiscal climate."

"We are facing capacity issues, census pressures," said Richard Miraglia, the OMH associate commissioner of forensic services.

For New York lawmakers, the demand for tens of millions of tax dollars in the coming years will arrive as officials grapple with dire budgetary constraints.

It costs four times more to hold a civilly detained offender than what the state spends for a prison inmate. In fact, New York's average annual price tag to treat a sex offender in a secure facility — about $175,000 — makes it the costliest program of its kind in the country, where 20 states have civil commitment programs.

The courtroom fights over civil commitment have their own costs, often outstripping the costs of criminal cases.

In 2007, even some antiviolence activists challenged whether the money for civil commitment could be better spent bolstering treatment for sex offenders in prison. One state-sponsored committee of experts and advocates recommended many approaches to curb sex crimes that did not include civil commitment, recalled Anne Liske, then executive director of the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault.