- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2003

RICHMOND Mentally ill patients will be protected from any sexually violent predators housed in state psychiatric hospitals, state officials said.
Patient advocates, however, say predatory sex offenders committed to a psychiatric hospital after finishing their prison terms should be kept separate from the mentally ill.
Under a 1999 state law, sex offenders can be held after their release from prison if experts determine they are still dangerous and a court signs off on civil commitment. Gov. Mark R. Warner has proposed setting aside $300,000 to commit and treat at most two or three offenders for one year after they finish their prison terms.
Richard Alvin Ausley, an inmate who abducted a 13-year-old boy, buried him in a box in a wooded area and repeatedly molested him for more than a week, could be the first predator committed under the program. Ausley, 63, is scheduled for mandatory release from prison in April after serving 30 years.
The General Assembly is considering a measure that would place offenders such as Ausley in the custody of the state mental health department after they are released from prison and committed by a court.
The bill introduced by Delegate H. Morgan Griffth, Salem Republican, requires the department to house sexual predators "for an indeterminate period in a secure facility … for treatment and confinement." The department would be allowed to contract with a public or private facility in or out of state to treat and control such offenders.
A department e-mail obtained by the Associated Press said Ausley would be housed in the stepdown forensic unit at Central State Hospital near Petersburg if he is civilly committed. "He will be provided 1:1 and will attend PSR as appropriate with his treatment plan," the Jan. 7 e-mail said, meaning he would have a staff escort 24 hours a day and would receive psychosocial rehabilitation, perhaps with mental health patients.
"We're breaking new ground," said Dr. James Reinhard, state mental health commissioner. "We would have to look at these folks on an individual basis as they came to us" before deciding whether they will interact with other patients, he said.
Dr. Reinhard said prison parolees with mental illness already are in the mental health system.
"We do have people with mental illness who have been predators of other people in our system. We have to be constantly vigilant of that, too," he said
Patient advocate Valerie L. Marsh said placing mentally ill people with sexually violent predators under any circumstances is "the worst-possible scenario that could possibly happen."
"When you mix the two populations together, you create a very volatile, dangerous situation," she said.
The sex offenders "have served their time and they are upset they are being confined indefinitely," she said.
Dr. Anita Smith Everett, state inspector general for mental health, agreed with Miss Marsh. "If you have them in mental health institutions, you have that risk" of endangering mentally ill patients, she said.
"Probably the best situation is to have separate units," she said.
The cost may be prohibitive, however. State Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, Virginia Beach Republican, has said an appropriate civil-commitment program in Virginia would cost $20 million annually and require a facility to house and treat the offenders.
The forensic unit at Central State is a prisonlike facility for people found not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity. The stepdown forensic unit also has high security, but is designed to give such patients a greater degree of freedom and autonomy.
Steve Harms, deputy secretary of health and human services, denied there was any plan to house sexually violent offenders in the stepdown unit.
The first option would be to put them in a fully established program for sexual predators in another state, Mr. Harms said.
If the sexual predators are not sent out of state, they could be placed in a private facility in Virginia, he said. "A third option is retrofitting part of one of our state mental health facilities."
If they were housed in a Virginia institution, the state would "make all the safeguards necessary to protect residents not in the program," Mr. Harms said.

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