July 9, 2010
Virginia's program for indefinitely containing those deemed to be sexually violent predators is facing a more than $26 million budget shortfall over the next two years after a dramatic expansion in crimes that qualify offenders for so-called civil commitment.
Appropriations for the program have grown from $2.7 million in 2004 to more than $17 million for the fiscal year that ended July 1. Officials anticipate needing $24 million to run the program this year - nearly $9 million more than budgeted - with the cost jumping to more than $32 million - or more than $17 million over budget - the following year.
Legislative leaders say if they can't find ways to trim the program's budget they will be forced to take money from other programs, many of which received dramatic cuts last winter when legislators trimmed billions in core services such as education and health care to balance the state's budget.
"For $26 million, which children are we willing to sacrifice? I'm not willing to sacrifice any children," said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, architect of the civil commitment law. "It's never been cheap. It was never expected that it would be cheap, but it's extremely important."
Virginia passed its civil commitment law in 1999, but didn't fund the program until 2003 when a notorious child molester was due to be released and his victim pushed legislators to keep him and others off the streets. Richard Alvin Ausley, 64, was beaten and strangled to death by his cellmate before he could be committed.
Under the program, those who commit certain sexual offenses are evaluated months before their prison release date. If they meet the criteria, the attorney general's office begins court proceedings to have them civilly committed. A judge or jury determines whether the offender should be committed for treatment, conditionally released and monitored or released with no further requirements.
Originally, only four crimes - rape, forcible sodomy, object sexual penetration and aggravated sexual battery - qualified offenders for civil commitment. But in 2006 the General Assembly expanded that to 28 crimes, including certain abductions, carnal knowledge of a child and a conspiracy or attempt to commit certain crimes.
Griffith said the expansion was needed to catch those violent predators who would plead guilty to lesser crimes or those who were difficult to prosecute because of the age of their victims. The new law increased the number of offenders eligible for commitment by about 350 percent, and commitments jumped from about one per month to five each month.