The Civil Commitment Unit for Sexual Offenders (CCUSO) at the main building of the Cherokee Mental Health Institution is undergoing a second level of expansion to increase capacity to 100.
Brad Wittrock, director of operations at CCUSO, discussed what was going on at CCUSO to the citizens advisory board for CMHI' s area of service at a quarterly meeting on Friday.
Iowa, following models of other states, passed a law in 1998, enabling sexual predators judged at high risk to reoffend to be civilly committed in a secure facility following completion of prison sentences. The first person to be committed to a CCUSO unit in Iowa, originally at Oakdale, was committed in 1999. Wittrock noted that he is still committed. No one has been released, although there are three people in step five of the five step process of treatment.
The program moved to Cherokee in 2003 with 35 patients. Currently, there are 66 patients living in a space designed for 50. Wittrock said it will be a big relief when the expansion project is completed. The projected population is 72 by the end of the fiscal year which ends at the last of June. By the end of the following fiscal year, the projected population is 82.
All of the residents are male. All have completed prison sentences, with some having spent many years in prison. Wittrock said that the average age of the patient is 51.
Wittrock explained that the civil commitment process requires a trial, a jury trial if requested, in which the person is judged beyond a reasonable doubt to be a person at risk to reoffend.
The CCUSO unit operates as a separate entity from the MHI with its own budget and management but there is a relationship with MHI providing utilities and support services such as laundry, food and maintenance.
Dr. Daniel Gillette, interim superintendent and clinical director at MHI, expressed concern about the future of CCUSO as not a warm and fuzzy program that the citizens of Iowa like supporting but, "if they are not here, they are in your neighborhoods."
Gillette said that unless there is a treatment component, with the possibility of release following completion of treatment, the CCUSO program would not withstand a court challenge. It cannot simply be a place to warehouse sexual offenders.