Some Virginia legislators are wondering whether the state’s plan to quadruple the number of sex offenders eligible for civil commitment will break the bank, reports the Washington Post. Detailing one case, the paper says the state will spend about $420,000 to keep an ofender in prison for 20 years. If he were housed for the same amount of time in the state’s civil commitment treatment facility, it could cost as much as $2.2 million. The high cost of Virginia’s seven-year-old civil commitment program has lawmakers disagreeing. House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith is pushing a plan that calls for the state to borrow about $62 million to build a 300-bed facility to house sex offenders. A Senate proposal calls for the state to pay $33 million in cash to open a 100-bed treatment center.
Virginia is one of 17 states with a civil commitment law that calls for sex offenders deemed too dangerous for release to be confined in a treatment center after they’ve served their prison sentences. Under the state’s law, a committee reviews a sex offender’s case within 10 months of his release date. If the committee recommends the offender for civil commitment, the Virginia attorney general’s office petitions a court to have the offender committed. In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled in a Kansas case that civil commitment is constitutional and does not constitute extra punishment. As long as offenders are receiving mental health treatment, the process remains a civil, rather than a criminal, matter, the high court said.