While many U.S. states have dedicated high-security facilities to housing those convicted of the most violent sexual crimes, Washington has taken a somewhat different approach.
As Vice News reported, 236 individuals deemed by the state to be a high risk for recidivism are living on McNeil Island, where they were transported against their will through a process known as civil commitment after their prison sentences ended.
The length of their stay at the clandestine facility is unclear, with many of its residents having been there for more than a decade. One convicted child molester who has been on the island for 10 years recently made a successful case for his release.
His attorney, Rachel Forde, has argued that indefinite commitments in such facilities are not only ineffective deterrents, but do not reflect justice.
“If our society gets together and says, ‘We want life sentences for all sex offenders,’ then we should just be honest about that and say that and change our laws,” she said.
In addition to ethical concerns are the practical complaints of the island’s residents.
According to the Daily Mail, about 200 of the facility’s residents filed a complaint last year alleging they were forced to drink brownish, unsanitary water.
“None of the staff drinks the water here,” said Calvin Malone, who is leading the legal challenge. “If the water was perfectly fine, why would they carry water from the mainland onto the site or use bottled water from the kitchen when the residents have to drink water from the pipes?”
Despite the criticisms, though, the staff on McNeil Island cite the disputed therapeutic effect of forced commitment in the facility.
The site’s director, Bill Van Hook, said the prospect of an eventual release is an incentive to actively participate in therapy, which he said is the only way for a resident to make it off the island.
“They think, ‘I have to get involved in treatment and that’s how I’m going to get out,'” he said.
Clinical director Elena Lopez explained the mission of such compelled treatment, which she said is most often conducted in a group setting.
“The purpose of our treatment program is to manage their risk,” she said. “It’s not to eradicate or eliminate or get rid of, because most of our residents may always have a proclivity for deviancy in some way whether that’s for children or non-consensual sex or other.”
[Featured image: Vice News video screenshot]