Featuring Senator Joe Morrissey, Delegate Patrick Hope, and Delegate Don Scott with Moderator Gin Carter of the Humanization Project.
Just Future Project is one of the members of our coalition and they deal specifically, (Senator Morrissey I know you know them). They deal specifically with VCBR and if people don’t know what that is and what that’s about, I know I personally was completely appalled last year when I learned that VCBR is a place where if you were in prison for a “violent” sexual crime, when you get to the end of your prison sentence you can be continually detained. So you’ve served your time and they put you in a supposed mental health facility and then at that point that person is being… staying in prison basically (they don’t call it prison), staying in prison on a crime that they will supposedly commit in the future. I don’t know about all of you, but I think this is appalling and I have no idea how it’s legal. So with that said, Garnett I think you’re on here (or Kirsten). Whoever would like to ask one of your questions — I know you had a few questions — we only have a few more minutes but if you could ask whichever one is the most pressing for you that would be wonderful.
Well, I’m on so I’ll start. This is Garnett Robins-Baughman and I’m with Just Future Project. The Covid, and I apologize for reading it, the Covid-19 pandemic has put Virginia in financial straits. Getting back to what we were just talking about making mass incarceration including those imprisoned in the shadow prison of VCBR run by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services for the Attorney General’s office, untenable.
The cost of incarcerating these citizens who have completed their prison terms is over $130,000.00 per person per year and that’s just what’s disclosed. Currently, 440 people… and more being added to fill an additional 258 cells. Virginia communities are desperate for real mental health and social services. What are you committed to doing to ensure that these funds are equitably distributed to the communities where they are needed the greatest, so true mental health and social health can occur?
Senator Joseph Morrissey:
Let me start. We’ve asked — I have asked — legislative services to draft a bill for the 2021 session to end this appalling situation of civil commitment. When I first heard about it I thought I’d seen all forms of violations of due process. Nothing shocked me more than to find out that there were people who have completed a 20-year sentence — they have served the maximum time: 17 years — and then they were being committed civilly.
Why? Because they might commit a civil crime. This involves sexual-aggravated sexual offenses. Let me just put this in proper perspective, Don — that’s like somebody who’s been in jail and they had committed 10 bank robberies okay, and then they’re getting ready to be released and somebody looks at their record and says:
“You know what, you have a propensity for committing bank robberies. I know you’ve just finished serving your time but we’re going to put you in another building that has bars on it that is to prevent you from realizing your liberty because you might commit another bank robbery. You might commit another grand larceny. You might possess another schedule one or two drug.”
It’s appalling! So, it violates every notion of due process that I can think of. So we’ve asked — I’ve asked my staff and I have asked legislative services — to draft legislation. Patrick and Don, hopefully we will get that out of the Senate and you will have an opportunity to vote in the House once and for all to end this appalling practice of civil commitment because somebody might commit a crime in the future.
Delegate Patrick Hope:
Well that bill will definitely save money because we’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars to operate VCBR right now to warehouse people, to your point, not for crimes they committed but for crimes that they might commit. It should be declared to be unconstitutional, and to see them put themselves in… tie themselves in knots, the Attorney General’s office — Mark Herring’s office — to see how they put themselves in knots to make stuff up to to have these civil commitment hearings. This whole process seems to be rigged to me and so we need to revamp our civil commitment process — we need to end it and release people. This set of “sexually violent predators,” these criminals, these people are no more likely to reoffend than anyone else. Probably, in fact, they’re probably less likely to reoffend than most anyone else. And so we’re locking them up for what? Out of fear, not out of facts, not about science… and we have to do something about it.
Senator Joseph Morrissey:
You know folks, my legislative assistant just provided me with statistics. VCBR was given $110 million to build a new facility in 2019. Imagine how much, if we had donated or dedicated that same amount of money, to providing actual rehabilitation services and how much we would have improved the Commonwealth. So whoever is interested in that question that’s out there listening, there’s a number of us that have this on our radar.