When Florida authorities caught up with Gary ”Catfish” Mitchell in June 2004, they found in his van computer disks loaded with child pornography, the Miami Herald reports. Three months earlier, he had left the secure treatment center that holds Florida’s most dangerous sexual predators. He’s among hundreds freed from a civil commitment program with no halfway houses, no outpatient facilities, and no ankle bracelets to ensure men who were dangerous enough to be held beyond their prison sentences are kept in check after release. ”We have some gaps in the system that need to be addressed,” said Adam Deming, clinical director of the state’s facility. “I’m not sure Florida has the type of monitoring systems that are necessary to protect the public from men who are released from here.”
Experts say civil commitment must be part of a larger program that includes therapy and monitoring well after offenders leave. Without a way of easing men back into the community, offenders face a far greater chance of failing, according to the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. A review by the Herald of 230 offenders who spent at least a month at the center found that nearly 40 percent were freed even though they refused to participate in treatment while they were confined. Nearly seven of every 10 left the center with no probation, in part because probation ran out while they were locked inside. It is a flaw in the law that dumbfounds experts.