Cost to keep sexual offenders in check is escalating for Virginia
Monday, February 21, 2011; 10:35 PM
RICHMOND - Virginia launched its program to keep sexual predators locked up once their prison sentences ended after learning that a serial child rapist who had kidnapped and brutalized a boy and then buried him alive might go free.
Now, nearly a decade later, state legislators are struggling with the escalating cost of the program that has kept hundreds of dangerous felons detained at the same time the state is facing growing needs in education, health care and transportation.
As of January, 252 sexual offenders had been indefinitely committed, costing taxpayers more than $100,000 per felon every year. That population is expected to more than double within five years, causing even the program's biggest supporters to question whether the state can afford to keep so many sexual predators locked up for so long.
"Are we being too aggressive in this?" asked Paul Martin Andrews, 51, a Woodbridge man whose harrowing experience as the young captive of Robert Ausley in 1973 led him to lobby the state to fund indefinite civil commitment for dangerous criminals. "It looks like someone is being overzealous or committing everyone they can."
Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) has proposed spending nearly $70 million over the next two years to temporarily house an overflow of sexual predators at a Petersburg facility while renovating a mothball prison in Southside Virginia. But legislators in his party are balking at the cost.
The Republican-controlled House of Delegates stripped most of the money out of the state budget, proposing instead that Virginia double bunk some offenders and ship others out of state. The Democratic-led Senate is backing the governor's plan.
It is one of the biggest budget issues dividing the two chambers in the final days of Virginia's annual legislative session, which is scheduled to end Saturday.
"I certainly told the legislators don't not give me the money and then not change the law and leave me with a mess," McDonnell said. "That's not acceptable."
Virginia passed a law allowing civil commitment in 1999 after a Supreme Court ruling allowed states to keep detaining dangerous criminals so long as they get treatment. But lawmakers provided no money for it.
Andrews, then 43 and living in Miami, went public about his attack in 2003 after it appeared that Ausley, who had served almost 30 years, was about to be released. Ausley, on parole for raping and abducting one boy, was expected in court in connection with a second boy's disappearance when he kidnapped Andrews in 1973. Andrews's lobbying helped persuade the House and Senate to vote unanimously to fund the commitment program.
In Maryland, lawmakers are considering a similar program this session.
Other states with commitment programs require that offenders have exhibited a pattern of sexually dangerous behavior before being committed, such as through multiple convictions, but in Virginia it only takes a single crime. A committee of corrections and mental health officials recommends candidates for commitment, and a judge makes the determination.