By Nora G. Hertel
Wisconsin officials have nearly quadrupled the number of offenders released from state custody after they were committed as sexually violent persons.
The risks to residents are reasonable, officials say, because the state's treatment programs are working and new data suggest these offenders are less likely to reoffend than previously thought.
- New data? Studies have been around for well over 20, or more years that says ex-offenders have a low risk of recidivism, so there is nothing "new" about it.
A total of 114 offenders were released from involuntary commitment from 2009 through 2013, compared to 31 during the prior five-year period, according to a Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism analysis of data from Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center in Mauston, where the state houses committed sexually violent persons.
Most were discharged with electronic monitors and no further required treatment. But a growing number of these offenders were subject to "supervised release," meaning they receive intensive treatment and monitoring.
A bill signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker in December will increase the use of this kind of supervision for offenders who are released.
"The increased number of patients on supervised release in Wisconsin does not place communities at greater risk, as long as those patients have been treated and are well-managed," said Lloyd Sinclair, court assessment and community programs director for Sand Ridge.
Since Chapter 980, Wisconsin's sexually violent persons law, took effect in 1994, the state has committed about 500 individuals past the ends of their criminal sentences. About two-thirds of them remain confined.
To be locked up under Chapter 980, a person must have committed a sexually violent offense, have a mental disorder and be determined to be dangerous to others.
Wisconsin state psychologists calculate the risk that sex offenders will reoffend based on historical recidivism data. The state had been basing decisions on data from around 1980. Now that the models have been updated to reflect information on offenders released during the 1990s, including a decade of follow-up data, some Sand Ridge patients no longer meet the criteria for commitment, officials say.
The number of sexually violent persons on supervised release is expected to reach a monthly average of 43 in fiscal 2015, up from 21 in fiscal 2010, according to an August 2013 state audit report on the supervised release program.
"The increasing number of individuals on supervised release is explained, in part, by recent research that has determined that certain types of individuals are less likely to commit additional sexual offenses than had previously been thought," the audit said.
- Photos: Inside Sand Ridge, where the sexually violent are treated (aka. Prison)
- Inside the walls of Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center: 'We have a huge challenge here'
- Wisconsin sex offender demographics, release rates