Required Inmate Confessions Improper, Judge Says


New York State corrections officials suspended counseling for convicted sex offenders last week after a federal judge ruled it was illegal to require inmates to confess their sins during prison therapy sessions, says the Albany Times-Union. The state is trying to develop a substitute counseling program.

The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge David Hurd stems from a lawsuit filed by a high school dropout serving prison time for rape and burglary. David Donhauser, 35, filed suit when prison officials withheld “good time” credits from him for refusing to participate in sex offender counseling sessions. Donhauser argued his constitutional rights against self-incrimination were violated, and that his chances of parole were hurt, because he refused to admit he raped anyone.

The programs are mandatory for nearly 6,200 inmates serving sentences for sex offenses among the 64,781 inmates incarcerated in the state’s 70 prisons. In 2002 and 2003, about 500 inmates refused to take part and were punished with the loss of “good time” — which enables inmates to be released from prison earlier.

Donhauser argued that he would take part in the counseling sessions if he “could maintain his innocence.” Counselors are mandated to report evidence of sex crimes that are revealed in the sessions. Hurd suggested the state make the program voluntary, or, give inmates who participate what is known as “use immunity.” That means the inmate’s confession could not be used by law enforcement unless they could independently verify the information on their own.

State Corrections Commissioner Glenn Goord said “it would be a sham to deconstruct a program by allowing inmates to control how the program operates….Sex offenses are all about control. The judge has perpetuated that cycle by placing inmates in control of whether or not they will disclose their sexual histories in prison sex offender programs — even though they would be required to do so to participate in similar programs outside of prison. … The judge’s ruling effectively guts the program.”


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