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Companies wanting to manage Virginia’s sex offender program offered higher costs or a potential lawsuit.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Even the staunchest disciples of privatization can acknowledge there are some government services that simply cannot be farmed out to a for-profit business.
Wisdom prevailed within the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, which recently rejected proposals from two companies seeking to manage a state facility for sex offenders.
The Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation houses 327 individuals who have completed their prison sentences but are considered likely to commit other sex crimes if they are released.
One company promised to operate the center for $22.9 million a year, below the current annual cost to taxpayers of $27.3 million. But the deal offered minimal treatment, an invitation to a lawsuit. Courts have ruled that sex offenders cannot be held indefinitely if the goal is punishment rather than rehabilitation.
The other private bidder offered superior treatment services, but for $2.4 million more each year than it costs to continue under government oversight.
State officials made the right decision, but it’s only the first step necessary to take responsibility for prior bad decisions that have put Virginia in a predicament. The sex offender facility was built to hold 300 individuals, but legislators looking to boost their tough-on-crime credentials have increased the number of crimes for which an offender can be civilly committed.
The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission noted that the sex offender program’s budget grew 320 percent between 2006 and 2011 while the number of individuals under lock and key grew nearly 1,400 percent during the same period. Double-bunking in theory would allow the center to house 450 individuals, but even so, state leaders acknowledge the facility will exceed capacity by 2016.
The state budget approved this winter includes $250,000 to start planning an expansion. Lawmakers should also revisit the question of what types of offenders are appropriate candidates for commitment.
It’s clear that both capital and operating expenditures must rise. State officials seem to recognize they cannot avoid that reality by foisting their problem onto a private firm that would have a financial interest in ensuring offenders are locked up forever, hardly a recipe for saving money. The problem was caused by the state’s missteps, and it’s up to Virginia’s leaders to fix it.
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