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Civil rights groups: Don’t privatize VA sex offender treatment

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RICHMOND, Va (WTVR) – A coalition of civil rights groups are asking Governor Bob McDonnell to reject bids to privatize the state’s treatment facility for sex offenders.

Two separate companies have asked to take over operation of the Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation, which houses violent sex offenders after their sentences are completed. Officials are considering privatizing the facility as a way to curb the cost of the state’s expanding civil commitment program.

A report issues last year by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) issued a report found that the program is expected to expand.

According to a report issued last year by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC), in 2011 the state spent nearly $91,000 to treat each patient at the facility. Comparably, Florida–which has privatized their treatment program–spent only $38,500 per patient each year.

Of further concern for the state, the population at the Burkeville facility is expected to skyrocket over the next four years. The facility now houses less than 300, but could jump to more than 600 by 2016, according to the JLARC report.

A coalition of 11 national civil rights, criminal justice reform, faith, and labor organizations sent a letter to Governor McDonnell yesterday, asking him to reject the unsolicited bids.

“What is currently an overcrowded situation at VCBR could become dramatically worse if run by a company that increases its profits at the expense of programs and operations, including security, in the facility,” the letter stated.

“An underfunded and dangerous civil commitment facility could lead to expensive lawsuits for which the Commonwealth will be liable.”

The two corporations that have offered unsolicited bids to operate the facility are GEO Group and Liberty Gilbane. The letter attacks the standards of two companies, claiming GEO has been sued for “unsafe conditions and providing unacceptable care in its facilities.”

The letter also decries the practice of civil commitment, calling it a way to “keep people convicted of sex offenses confined even after they have served all their sentenced time.”

According to the letter, the reason for the projected population jump was lawmakers’ decision to expand the number of offenses that a person can be civilly committed for from four to 28 in 2006. This has led to a 1,374 percent jump in civil commitments over the past five years.

The groups behind the letter include the Justice Policy Institute and Grassroots Leadership,  Communication Workers of America, Human Rights Defense Center, In The Public Interest, Justice Strategies, Private Corrections Institute, Progressive States Action, The Sentencing Project, and the United Methodist Church.

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