To Catch-22 a Predator

On Ward's Island, it's legal limbo for men who probably deserve it

Parker's score was high, and Judge Wetzel ultimately sent him back to the Manhattan Psychiatric Center to await another court date later this month. If he is officially committed at that time, he will be shipped upstate, either to the Central New York Psychiatric Center in Marcy or the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in Ogdensburg, where the state has scores of empty beds in preparation for the continued influx of sexual predators.

"The cost of providing this treatment in the U.S. is going to be extremely high," says Paul Fedoroff, an expert on sex-offender treatment and director of the Sexual Behaviors Clinic at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. "It's much more difficult to treat somebody who feels coerced into getting treatment," he says. "My suspicion is that the idea of the legislation was to prevent people from getting into the community, rather than to provide them with state-of-the-art treatment."

That seems fairly certain. And, so far, no agency or legislator has questioned the cost of civil confinement, and no one but the Mental Hygiene Legal Service lawyers have expressed concern over the lack of real treatment for the sex-offender patients.

Peter Mitchell

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A rogues' gallery of (don't call them) prisoners
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According to the Office of Sex Offender Management, which was created by legislative action last spring, 36 sex offenders were committed to psychiatric facilities during the first year of New York's new civil-confinement law. Another 139 were identified for "civil management"—either commitment to a psychiatric facility or long-term, intensive parole. Many of these men's cases are sealed, but documents obtained by the Voice provide a glimpse into the criminal histories of a few men identified as sexually violent predators with "mental abnormalities." They are:

Christopher James, 26, whose life was disastrous from the start. He was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, causing a lack of oxygen to his brain, and two genetic syndromes that cause eye-movement problems, small testicles, and reduced fertility. By seven months old, he was banging his head against things—the first sign of developmental delays. At four, he was kicked out of special-ed preschool for behavioral problems, and at nine, a cyst was found in his brain, which was drained but unable to be removed. All of these early problems, according to a state psychiatrist, contributed to what came next: an inability to control deviant sexual behavior. James was kicked out of his house and arrested for his first offense at age 19, after a seven-year-old girl accused him of touching her vagina. Out on probation, he was arrested a second time for fondling a 17-year-old girl while she was sleeping. That incident was caught on tape after the family he was living with put cameras up because they thought James was stealing from them. By 2005, he was behind bars and in trouble for violently raping a fellow inmate. He was going to be released in February, but has been civilly committed and will remain in a psychiatric facility indefinitely.

Stanley Dixon, an aging pedophile who racked up six sex-offense convictions from 1964 to 2002 in New York, North Carolina, and Connecticut. Dixon claims that he was sexually abused by his father and uncle as a child, and physically abused by his mother and foster family. After being arrested for sodomizing an eight-year-old boy in 1968, his first sex offense, he told police: "I didn't think I had a problem, but I did. I did it three more times." He molested and sodomized several boys ranging in age from eight to 15 over the years, serving a short sentence after each conviction. Then, in 1973, he pulled a gun on a 20-year-old woman and forced her to give him oral sex. In 1990, he was arrested after pulling a razor on a 26-year-old female acquaintance and sodomizing her for several hours. Only three months after his release for that crime, Dixon was arrested again for repeatedly molesting his girlfriend's 11-year-old daughter and her 12-year-old friend. He was supposed to be released last August, but has been detained in a psychiatric facility instead.

Shawn Short, a pedophile convicted of vaginally and anally raping a six-year-old girl in 1992. Short was also accused of molesting the girl's two-year-old brother, but never charged. After serving 10 years, Short was released on parole and was soon accused of victimizing children again. His parole was revoked eight months after his release, when he was accused of molesting his girlfriend's three-year-old son. Those charges were dropped, but a state psychiatric examiner petitioned to have Short put on "strict and intensive supervision"—basically lifetime parole with an ankle bracelet.

Freddie Johnson, who made headlines in April for his 53rd arrest, this time for rubbing against a young woman on the No. 6 train. Previously, the attorney general's office had tried to get the 49-year-old repeat sex offender committed to a psychiatric facility, but Judge William Wetzel ruled that Johnson should be released instead under "strict and intensive supervision" (lifetime parole with an ankle bracelet). That decision came back to bite Judge Wetzel just a couple weeks later, when Johnson was arrested after subway cops spotted him in the act. It was his 30th arrest for a sex crime.

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Whether by accident or design, the catch-22 will likely keep these dangerous sexual predators locked up for the rest of their lives. The history of civil-commitment laws in other states has shown that, once a sexual offender is committed, it is unlikely that he will ever be released from a high-cost psychiatric facilities. Nationwide, only a small fraction of such people—a little more than 400 out of about 2,700 sexual predators being held in psychiatric facilities—has ever been freed. Most of those were released on legal grounds, not because those states believed the men to be reformed. "It's basically a life sentence," Fedoroff says.

And for many New Yorkers, that may be just fine.

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