Eight of the current 80 patents sentenced to the Civil Commitment Unit for Sex Offenders (CCUSO) at the Cherokee Mental Health Institute are progressing through CCUSO's complex treatment stages to become potential clients for the Department of Human Services (DHS) Transitional Release Program.
Smith was responding to a Page 1 story in the Sunday Des Moines Register, whose headline read "9 sex offenders near freedom." That headline was misleading, as were parts of the story, explained Smith, who runs the CCUSO program here for the Iowa DHS.
Since the CCUSO program was begun in Iowa 12 years ago, no patient has "graduated" from treatment and been transitioned into a community setting anywhere. However, a reported 13 patients have been released by court order for various legal reasons, but no patient has been identified as safe enough to graduate, according to the judges and/or those involved in the treatment program.
"Basically, we're operating the same program we've always run since Day One," explained Smith. "It's our Transitional Release Program. It's all based on their level of achievement, which has to do with how they conduct themselves, and how they are progressing in treatment. The final stage is learning how to balance treatment and work."
Smith said that polygraph tests, physiological tests, and professional evaluations are used to verify results for each of the five stages of treatment.
Patents are evaluated on 10 criteria every 90 days. As their scores increase, they can become eligible for the next phase.
There are no scheduled release dates for CCUSO patients. They must work their way through five phases of treatment, which includes therapy and behavior monitoring. Smith said eight of the facility's 80 patients are currently advancing hrough the various treatment stages, which includes moving into their own apartments within the maximum security CCUSO facility, and supervised outings such as a trip to Sioux City to see a therapist. If no problems ever arise in these settings, a patient might advance to a conditional release similar to a half-way house program with or without full-time supervision, depending upon the patient's professional risk assessment.
If the patient surpasses all the criteria after that point, he could possibly be discharged to a chosen community in the future and that could entail supervision, electronic monitoring, reporting to a supervisor, etc., or no supervision at all, said Smith.
"The program is rigorous," added Smith. "We and the DHS can make our recommendations to District Court, but it's then up to the judge to make a ruling on whether the patient is to be released in the Trasitional Program, or discharged. The people we don't have control over are those released by the judges."
Where any released patients choose to settle, it must be in communities that have ongoing treatment services, added Smith.
The eight Cherokee patients advancing in the treatment program are occasionally being released for periods of time during the day under supervision before returned to the facility. They are required to look for work, find additional treatment, and must try to reconnect with friends and family.
Smith said all patents are subject to lifetime registration with law enforcement. "We always want them supervised so we can montor how they are adpating,' explained Smith.
No matter how they respond to treatment while incarcerated, all CCUSO patients are entitled to an annual hearing before a judge. By law, the patients have a legal right to be released if they are no longer considered a high risk to reoffend.
To date, no patient in Iowa has ever completed all phases of the program and been released unconditionally by a judge.
Iowa is one of 20 states that have CCUSO facilities, but not all programs are similar. Iowa and other states provide for conditional releases once all criteria has been met. Others have strict legal guidelines that mandate when patients can be released.
CCUSO patients here range in age from 20s to 80s, with an average age of 45. A judge or jury must agree with state prosecutors that offenders are at such a high risk to reoffend after their prison terms are up, that civil commitment is warranted.
Time and numbers then influence the possibility of potential graduates. As CCUSO's population has grown, more patients progress through treatment and near the possibility of achieving eligibility for release.