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HOUSING SEX OFFENDERS State extends deal with mental hospital



Published: Sat, July 2, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The facility has seen fewer inmates than initially expected.

GREENSBURG, Pa. (AP) -- A state program to house juvenile sexual offenders past age 21, and possibly indefinitely, has only five inmates after its first year of operation and could cost nearly $8 million by next June.

The program houses offenders at Torrance State Hospital in Westmoreland County. State officials acknowledge the facility hasn't been used as much as had been hoped since opening last summer, but they say it is working.

Under the program, created by the Legislature in 2003, juvenile sex offenders can be housed indefinitely past their 21st birthdays if they are found to have a mental abnormality that that renders them unable to control violent sexual impulses.

However, the state has agreed to extend its contract with Liberty Behavioral Health of Montgomery County for an extra year before the state assumes control of the program, the Greensburg Tribune-Review reported.

Contract negotiations

The initial 27-month contract called for Liberty to receive about $7.8 million to run the secure facility. The state was expected to pay $3.8 million this fiscal year and another $4 million through June 30, 2006. The state is also negotiating with Liberty to stay on for an additional year before the state takes over in mid-2007.

"We expected more [inmates] by now, but since there is no program like it in the country, the only specifics we had was an adult-based model. We went a little beyond and said, 'Let's err on the side of conservatism,'" said David Jones, director of the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse for the Department of Public Welfare. "We're not disappointed in the numbers."

When the facility opened, officials expected at least 14 inmates from a pool of 80 eligible youths about to turn 21. Jones said 113 juveniles are now eligible.

James Anderson, executive director of the Juvenile Court Judges Commission in Harrisburg, said success should not be judged on numbers.

"If it prevents further serious sexual assaults ... then we think the legislation has been worthwhile," Anderson said.

Criticisms

The program is being challenged by a lawyer representing a Butler County man sent to the facility.

Armand Cingolani, who represents Allen Crispin, said patients are being confined without any crime being committed.

In December, a month before Crispin turned 21, Butler County Judge Thomas Doerr sent him to Torrance for at least a year because of his sexually violent fantasies, but his stay could be indefinite.

Crispin was adjudicated delinquent in juvenile court at age 14 on child molestation charges. Cingolani describes his client as mentally handicapped.

"He's being deprived of his constitutional rights. They're persecuting him for what he thinks and not what he did," Cingolani said.




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