Special Commitment Center

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The Special Commitment Center (SCC) in the state of Washington is a post-sentence treatment institution for people designated as sexually violent predators, located on McNeil Island. SCC treatment is the subject of controversy because it allows the involuntary civil confinement of a sex offender after he or she has fulfilled the court's sentence. The SCC practice is justified—as in psychiatric institutions across the US—civil commitment in Washington state is based on a person's dangerousness related to a psychological disability. The center works towards treating a committed person and then releasing him or her—under supervision—to the community.


Washington State's 1990 Community Protection Act was meant to address limitations in involuntary-commitment law and institutions by allowing indefinite, involuntary civil commitment of violent sexual offenders who meet specified criteria.[1] The previous system managed only short-term treatment of persons with serious mental disorders—with the intent of quickly returning them to the community.[1] The Act uniquely applies to violent sexual offenders who meet the less stringent criteria of a personality disorder or mental abnormality which is believed to make them likely to offend again.[1] Under this law, "sexually violent predators" are defined as people with a history of sexually violent crime and "personality disorders and/or mental abnormalities which are unnamable to existing mental illness treatment modalities and those conditions render them likely to engage in sexually violent behavior",[2] targeting strangers, or establishing relationships specifically for the purpose of victimization, if released into the community.[3] "Mental abnormalities" and "personality disorders" typically refer to DSM-IV diagnoses, which are established through structured interviews with the subject.[4]

The Special Commitment Center was established in April 1990 to manage those committed under the Act. In the beginning, the SCC managed only six people; that number grew at a rate of about 22 persons per year.[5] In late 2001, a temporary Secure Community Transition Facility (SCTF) was established in order to comply with legislation that allowed court-ordered conditional releases. In 2003, SCTF was moved to its present permanent location in the North Complex on McNeil Island. In May 2004, in the same complex, the SCC opened a dedicated facility known as the Total Confinement Facility to house confined residents.[6]


In 2001, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that the rights of two residents were violated because during their commitment proceedings they were not allowed to present evidence that a less restrictive treatment alternative would have been more effective than total confinement.[7] Since the decision, several residents in total confinement were allowed to move to private residences or halfway houses.[7]

Residents of the Special Commitment Center receive $1 to $3 per hour for work performed while in the program. A lawsuit has been filed by one of the inmates contesting that—because the Special Commitment Center is a civil treatment program and not a prison—residents should be guaranteed minimum wage under federal law.[8]

Commitment Process[edit]

Washington State law requires an End of Sentence Review Committee to review every sex offender before release from prison. The committee, chaired by the Department of Corrections, rates an offender on a scale from 1 to 3 according to his or her likelihood of offending again. The rating sets the level of supervision that a person requires after release.

If the committee finds that a person meets the legal definition of "sexually violent predator," they refer his or her case to the Special Commitment Center. The prosecutor's office of the convicting county receives permission to petition for the person's commitment to the center. The SCC houses the person until a judge holds a probable cause hearing. If the judge finds probable cause, the SCC confines the person indefinitely. Otherwise, he or she is released.[9]

After civil commitment, a person has the right to an annual progress review by the court. A conditional release is granted only if the court finds it to be in the best interests of the person--and if conditions can be imposed to adequately protect the community. To be released, a person must be put under the care of a treatment provider who will provide regular updates to the court--and be placed in housing that will notify authorities if he or she leaves without authorization.[9]


Total Confinement Facility[edit]

Located on McNeil Island, North Complex. Houses residents restricted to total confinement. The facility has beds for 228 men and 4 women. An adjacent building contains 80 beds for low-maintenance residents. There are plans to increase capacity to 398 beds.[6]

Secure Community Transition Facility in Pierce County[edit]

Located on McNeil Island, North Complex. Houses residents who have received court-ordered conditional releases. Contains 24 beds.

Secure Community Transition Facility in King County[edit]

Located in South Seattle. Houses residents who have received court-ordered conditional releases. Contains 6 beds.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "RCW 71.09.010". Washington State Legislature. Archived from the original on 17 March 2011. Retrieved 17 March 2011. 
  2. ^ http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=71.09.010
  3. ^ Robert Shilling (1993-07-22). "1990 Act Helps Guard Against Sex Offenders". The Seattle Times. Archived from the original on 2011-03-15. Retrieved 2011-03-15. 
  4. ^ Richard Rogers, PhD, and Rebecca L. Jackson, PhD; Sexually Violent Predators: The Risky Enterprise of Risk Assessment, Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry Law, 33:523–8, 2005, http://www.jaapl.org/content/33/4/523.full.pdf
  5. ^ Richards, Henry. "Special Commitment Center Strategic Plan 2009-2013" (PDF). Washington State Department of Health and Social Services. Retrieved 16 March 2011. 
  6. ^ a b "Special Commitment Center Total Confinement Facility". Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. Retrieved 2011-03-15. 
  7. ^ a b Sunde, Scott (28 December 2001). "Court says sex offenders' rights violated". Seattle PI. Archived from the original on 17 March 2011. Retrieved 17 March 2011. 
  8. ^ Johnson, Gene (27 August 2010). "Predators confined to Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island seek higher wages". The News Tribune. Archived from the original on 17 March 2011. Retrieved 17 March 2011. 
  9. ^ a b "The Civil Commitment Process". Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. Retrieved 17 March 2011. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 47°12′51″N 122°41′11″W / 47.2143°N 122.6865°W / 47.2143; -122.6865