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New report: Virginia needs to end "civil commitment"


A new report calls attention to Virginia's practice of incarcerating people even after their sentence has been completed.

Virginia currently incarcerates about 400 people even though their sentences have already been completed. It's part of a system called civil commitment, which allows the state to detain people who have been convicted of sexual offenses until they can prove that they are no longer a danger.

Wanda Bertram at the Prison Policy Initiative says Virginia is one of 20 states that violates due process rights this way.

"We are taking those people, and we are putting them in detention facilities, confinement facilities, indefinitely until a rotating cast of inexperienced medical staff says you are ready to go home," Bertram says. "That is shameful, right? It’s something that we should all be paying attention to."

Two years ago, the General Assembly considered a bill to ditch Virginia's system of detaining people after their sentences have been completed. Lawmakers ended up abandoning the idea after Republican Senator Bill Stanley raised objections.

"There's nobody in there that seems like they should be getting out in my humble legal opinion," Stanley said. "They are very dangerous persons that are already there in civil commitment."

A new report from the Prison Policy Initiative calls for Virginia to reconsider the practice.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.