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Virginia lawmakers squash repeal of civil commitment law

Posted at 4:02 PM, Jan 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-28 16:03:34-05

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia lawmakers have squashed a proposal to repeal a decades-old Virginia law that allows the state to hold certain sex offenders at a psychiatric facility after they complete their criminal sentences.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday voted to send the bill to the Virginia State Crime Commission for a study, ending its chances of being passed this year.

Democratic Sen. Joe Morrissey, the lead patron of the bill, argued that the current law is unfair and punishes offenders twice for the same crime. But the bill faced strong opposition from Republicans and opponents who said the law is needed to protect society from offenders who have been deemed “sexually violent predators.”

“To let them out would be to put children and women and men and our citizens at risk,” Republican Sen. Bill Stanley said during Wednesday's hearing.

But several supporters of the proposal to repeal the law said sex offenders should be given psychological treatment while they are in prison serving their criminal sentences and not forced to remain locked up after they complete their prison terms.

Under the current law, offenders who are found to be sexually dangerous are committed to the Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation after they complete their prison sentences.

They are entitled to an annual review hearing and every two years after that, when a court decides whether they can be released or will continue to be held at the center.

Supporters of the law say inmates receive intensive inpatient sex offender treatment at the center, while opponents say the center is a “shadow prison” where offenders are forced to serve a second term.

The committee voted 12-0 to send the bill to the crime commission for a study.

Morrissey said he knew the bill was a longshot this year, but plans to propose it again next year and is hoping to get a favorable recommendation from the crime commission after the group studies the current system.

“I do believe people will come around - eventually," he said.