FULTON — The number of people held in Missouri as sexually violent predators is shooting up, leading mental health officials to seek millions of additional dollars for their care.
In the upcoming year alone, Gov. Jay Nixon recommends more than $2.6 million for nearly 60 additional positions within the Sex Offender Rehabilitation and Treatment Services program at the Southeast Missouri Mental Health Center in Farmington and at the Fulton State Hospital.
It's not the first time officials have sought and received funding for additional staff.
"Pretty much like clockwork, we get about 20 people a year," committed to the sex offender program, Mental Health Department Director Keith Schafer said.
A Missouri law that took effect in 1999 permits certain sex offenders to be civilly committed as a "sexually violent predator" after completing their criminal sentences. It requires a mental abnormality and a "more likely than not" probability that the person would commit sexual violence if released.
Security is high, and the facilities are surrounded by razor wire. In 2008, the number of people committed or detained while awaiting a civil commitment decision was 152. That grew to 212 people four years later, which included 34 detained in jails while the civil commitment process was pending.
Officials project that the count will rise to 234 people, with 31 people detained in jails, during the current 2013 fiscal year. In 2015, it is estimated to be 274 people, with 31 people detained in jails.
Missouri's current operating budget includes partial-year funding for a third 25-person unit at the Fulton State Hospital. Nixon's budget proposal for next year would fully fund the expansion ward at Fulton and would provide 10 months of funding to open 25 new beds in Farmington.
"This simply gives the Department of Mental Health the ability to initiate treatment," Schafer said.
Treatment consists of group therapy, classes and individual therapy. It is designed to help patients with accepting responsibility for sexual offenses and their consequences, gaining control of deviant sexual urges and behavior, coping with negative emotions that can create risk for re-offending and developing plans for functional use of leisure time.
The process for deciding who enters the sex offender program starts with prison or mental health officials alerting the attorney general's office and a seven-member multidisciplinary team that someone nearing release could qualify as a "sexually violent predator." The attorney general's office receives an assessment from the multidisciplinary team, and a five-member prosecutor's committee also completes a review.
When it appears someone could be a "sexually violent predator" and the prosecutor's committee agrees by majority vote the person meets the definition, the attorney general can file a petition in court. A trial is then held.
Among those who have been committed, nine transferred back to prison and seven people have died. Two people have been granted conditional release without discharge, which allows the resident to leave the facility for scheduled activities and appointments with an escort and electronic monitoring.
The growth in the sex offender program has become part of mental health officials' pitch for building a new high-security facility at the Fulton State Hospital.
The hospital, which is about 30 miles northeast of the state Capitol, admitted its first patients in 1851 and is the oldest public mental health facility west of the Mississippi River. Officials want to replace antiquated space at the hospital with a new $211 million facility that has a better treatment environment and is safer for patients and employees.
Lawmakers and Nixon this year have been working on a proposal to issue several hundred million dollars in bonds for improvements and construction at college campuses, state facilities and state parks. The Mental Health Department hopes the new 300-bed facility will be part of the bonding strategy and could ease the need for a new $70 million facility to house sex offenders. At the current growth rate, the department estimates it would run out of high-security space around 2018.
The new facility would house patients who currently live in the maximum security Biggs Forensic Center and the intermediate security Guhleman Forensic Center. Biggs would be razed, and 91 beds would be opened in Guhleman for the sex offender program.