By Karen Franklin, Ph.D.
Dan Montaldi’s words were prophetic.
Speaking to Salon magazine last year, the former director of Florida's civil commitment program for sex offenders called innovative rehabilitation programs "fragile flowers." The backlash from one bad deed that makes the news can bring an otherwise successful enterprise crashing down.
Montaldi was referring to a community reintegration program in Arizona that was derailed by the escape of a single prisoner in 2010.
But he could have been talking about Florida where, just a year after his Salon interview, the highly publicized rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl is sending shock waves through the treatment community. Cherish Perrywinkle was abducted from a Walmart, raped and murdered, allegedly by a registered sex offender who had twice been evaluated and found not to meet criteria for commitment as a sexually violent predator (SVP).
Montaldi resigned amidst a witch hunt climate generated by the killing and a simultaneous investigative series in the Sun Sentinel headlined "Sex Predators Unleashed." His sin was daring to mention the moral dilemma of locking up people because they might commit a crime in the future, when recidivism rates are very low. Republican lawmakers called his statements supportive of "monsters" and said it made their "skin crawl."
The Sun Sentinel series had also criticized the decline in the proportion of paroled offenders who were recommended for civil commitment under Montaldi's directorship. "Florida's referral rate is the lowest of 17 states with comparable sex-offender programs and at least three times lower than that of such large states as California, New York and Illinois," the newspaper reported.
Audit finds very low recidivism rates
Three independent auditors -- well known psychologists Chris Carr, Anita Schlank and Karen C. Parker -- reviewed data from both a 2011 state analysis and an internal recidivism study conducted by the SVP program. They also reviewed data on 31,626 referrals obtained by the Sun Sentinel newspaper for its Aug. 18 expose.
All of the data converged upon an inescapable conclusion: Current assessment procedures are systematically overestimating the risk that a paroling offender will commit another sex offense.