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Washington States Sex Offender Law

January 31, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT

FEMALE DEMONSTRATOR: How many women must suffer and die?

ROD MINOTT, KCTS: Recently in Seattle, a handful of Guardian Angels gathered in protest outside a federal courthouse.

FEMALE DEMONSTRATOR: How many women must suffer and die?

ROD MINOTT: The target of their answer, a sex offender named Andre Brigham Young, a six- time convicted rapist. Young finished serving his sentence in 1990, but he has been locked up since then under a controversial state sex predator law. That law allows the commitment of those who suffer from a mental abnormality or personality disorder which would make them likely to re- offend. Recently, a U.S. District Court said the law was unconstitutional, so Young, who has always insisted on his innocence, wanted out.

ANDRE YOUNG, Convicted Sex Offender: I want my freedom. I should have it. I deserve it.

RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: What we’re talking about here are people who are time bombs, people who have no control over their own behavior.

ROD MINOTT: On a local radio talk show, callers just as pointedly did not want Andre Young out. They not only wanted the judge to keep him incarcerated pending appeals; they wanted him in prison forever.

MALE CALLER: I don’t ever want him out. I don’t care. If they make that mistake, I don’t want him out again.

ROD MINOTT: The federal judge decided to hold Young until the appeals process has been completed. But that decision did not put an end to debate over the constitutionality of the law, itself, nor did it put an end to the question of just what society should do to protect itself from dangerous sex offenders. When the U.S. District Court made its ruling in Young’s favor, Judge John Kuinaris said the additional commitment constituted double jeopardy–being punished twice for the same crime. The judge rejected the argument that the commitment was for the purposes of treatment, not punishment. Assistant State Attorney General Sarah Sappington, who is appealing for the State of Washington, argues that the confinement does qualify as treatment.

SARAH SAPPINGTON, Assistant Washington State Attorney General: They aren’t being punished for what they haven’t done yet; they are being treated for a mental disorder that is evidenced by sexual crimes in the past, and the combination of those sexual crimes, their mental disorders, and various other risk factors that psychologists look at allow a psychologist to say and a jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that if this person is out in the community again, he is more likely than not to reoffend.

ROD MINOTT: But Young said under those terms, a sex offender could be imprisoned forever.

ANDRE YOUNG: If you’re not allowing a person to be released and there is no end time to it, that’s death. So what you have here is a death sentence disguised as treatment.

ROD MINOTT: Young’s attorney, Bob Boruchowitz, thinks the use of mental abnormality is a hoax in itself.

BOB BORUCHOWITZ, Young’s Lawyer: Mental abnormality is a fiction that was concocted to get around the constitutional requirement that people be mentally ill in order to be committed because the legislature wrote in its own statute we know that our civil commitment law does not apply to this population of people. So, in effect, they’re saying we know they’re not mentally ill, but we know they have to be in order to lock ’em up, so we’re going to pretend they’re mentally ill by calling them mentally abnormal, which has no clinical significance.

ROD MINOTT: The state also insists it has been trying to treat those committed under the law, given though experts dispute whether sexual predators can be successfully treated. Those held after their sentences have been completed are given so-called relapse prevention therapy, which attempts to change deviant behavior by individual and group counseling. Monitoring sexual arousal is also key to the therapy. Audiotapes of deviant sexual fantasies are played. A machine with wires attached to the man’s genitals is used to track sexual arousal. If the offender becomes excited by inappropriate fantasies, such as rape, he sniffs ammonia to curb his arousal. But about 2/3 of the inmates refuse to participate in any of these treatment programs. They spend their days at the special commitment center taking educational courses, exercising, watching TV, and talking to their lawyers about filing more lawsuits against the state. Those who do participate are often harassed, so much so that the two groups are now housed separately. Men like Joseph Aqui are willing to put up with the harassment and with the therapy in hopes of winning release, in hopes of proving they no longer are a threat.

JOSEPH AQUI, Convicted Sex Offender: I do not believe I’m the same kind of person that I was 20 years ago. I think the potential is there only because the history is there, and because I have gone through a program that makes me aware, you know, that I can’t turn my back on it. Sort of like a recovering alcoholic, I can’t say I don’t have the problem no more, I have to say, that the opportunity is there, but what choice do I make, I make the smart, wisest choice I can make, no reoffending, no more victims.

ROD MINOTT: But Andre Young continues to believe the only way to freedom is through the courts. In fact, he has decorated his cell with his legal briefs. Young has refused all help from the center.

ANDRE YOUNG: It’s a sham. It’s a scam. Sure, there are individuals that participate in what they call treatment, but to what end? It’s just a show. It’s to let the public hear that there is something going on here, but in reality, there isn’t.

ROD MINOTT: Young presumes he will be vindicated at the circuit court level.

ANDRE YOUNG: They’re not going to get away it because we’re going to keep as much light on the situation as we possibly can. And what’s in the dark will come to the light. So that’s how I believe things will be turned around, because the truth will be revealed, you know, the truth will be taught.

ROD MINOTT: Others are preparing for that day as well. State Rep. Ida Ballasiotes, one of the original authors of the sex predator law, says she’ll offer a legislative fix. She’s proposing to extend the prison sentences for first-time sex offenders.

REP. IDA BALLASIOTES, Washington State Legislature: We would look at a sentence long enough that the person would theoretically not have the capability of getting out. There would be no question about well, at the end of their term, we may or may not keep him. It would be a sentence long enough that if someone is let’s say 30 years old now, and you give him a 50-year sentence, with very little ability to get out early, you know, should keep someone there long enough that they wouldn’t pose a threat.

ROD MINOTT: Most expect the case will end up before the U.S. Supreme Court before it’s resolved. A decision at that level will determine the fate of Andre Young and the 30 other sex offenders being held at the Washington State Special Commitment Center.