Forensics: Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between the Sexually Violent Predator Program and the Sex Offender Commitment Program?

The Sex Offender Commitment Program (SOCP) is the operational title used by the Department of State Hospitals in implementing the sexually violent predator (SVP) civil commitment statutes. They generally refer to the same statutes and program.

What are the basic provisions of the Sex Offender Commitment Program?

The sexually violent predator civil commitment process was established through Chapters 763 and 762, Statutes of 1995, Assembly Bill 888 (Rogan) and Senate Bill 1143 (Mountjoy). These statutes created a new civil commitment for "sexually violent predators" (SVP) in the Welfare & Institutions Code, Section 6600, et seq. The SVP law has been amended several times since it was enacted. Persons committed as SVP's have been previously convicted of specified sex offenses against one or more victims and determined to have a diagnosed mental disorder that makes it likely that they will engage in sexually violent predatory behavior upon release into the community. The law took effect on January 1, 1996, and is implemented by the Department of Mental Health State Hospitals as the Sex Offender Commitment Program.

Does this law apply to all sex offenders convicted of a sex offense?

No, the law pertains to only those individuals who have been previously convicted of sex offenses listed above, and all other legal and clinical criteria. The law applies only to individuals who have both been convicted of a qualifying sex offense and who also have a mental disorder which predisposes them to re-offend.

Is this law retroactive?

No. The law cannot be applied to an individual released from custody prior to January 1, 1996 or to an individual who has been discharged from the CDCR. The law may only be applied to a person in the custody of the CDCR or a parolee in revoked status who has been returned to the CDCR. The persons' criminal history prior to January 1, 1996, can be taken into account in determining the clinical diagnosis and risk assessment of a sexually violent predator.

How does the law affect parole or sex offender registration?

An individual's parole period and SOCP commitment run simultaneously. All persons who are committed to the SOCP, or are released from the SOCP, must comply with sex offender registration statutes. Persons who have ever been adjudicated and found to be a sexually violent predator are required to register every 90 days with the chief of police in the community in which they are living.

Where is the Sex Offender Commitment Program located?

Once the person is found to be an SVP by the court or jury, he or she shall be committed to the custody of the DMH for appropriate treatment and confinement in a secure facility designated by the Director of Mental Health State Hospitals.

What are the conditions for release of an SVP from the Sex Offender Commitment Program?

An SVP cannot be held for more than two years, unless a subsequent extended commitment is obtained from the court by the granting of a new petition for commitment. Once an SVP is committed they are given annual evaluations to determine if the commitment is still warranted under the SVP statute. There are numerous provisions ensuring constitutionally adequate due process for the SVP such as: annual examination of his or her mental condition; annual written notice from the DSH to the patient of his or her right to petition the court for conditional release at a court hearing; a show cause hearing if the patient does not waive this right; and potentially a jury trial and the benefit of all constitutional protections that were afforded him or her at the initial commitment proceeding trial. Any one of the following scenarios can apply:

  • If the DSH finds that the patient's diagnosed mental disorder has changed and the patient is not likely to commit acts of predatory sexual violence, the Director may petition the court for a hearing. The court may make a determination that the patient be unconditionally released. If the individual is unconditionally released, he or she will continue to be supervised as a parolee by the CDCR for the duration of his or her statutory parole period, and continue to register as a sex offender with local enforcement; or
  • If the patient's diagnosed mental disorder has changed and the patient is not likely to commit acts of predatory sexual violence while under supervision and treatment on outpatient status, the Director of the DSH can petition the court for a hearing to consider conditional release (outpatient supervision and treatment). The court decides if the SVP shall be placed on conditional release in an appropriate forensic conditional release program operated by the state.
  • A patient committed as an SVP can petition the court for conditional release and subsequent unconditional discharge. If the court grants conditional release, the SVP shall be placed in a Conditional Release Program (CONREP). Time spent in the CONREP shall not count toward the original term of commitment (2 years) of the SVP. If the individual is unconditionally released from a secure facility, he or she will continue to be supervised as a parolee by CDCR for the duration of his or her statutory parole period.

What is the treatment provided in the SOCP?

There is no single "cause" of sexual offending; there are many factors that contribute to an offender's pattern of crimes and there are demonstrated treatment approaches that are useful in addressing these factors. The practitioners in this field do not claim to "cure" but rather the treatment strategy is to manage the risk of re-offending. The treatment orientation of the Sex Offender Commitment Program is cognitive-behavioral with a Relapse Prevention (RP) component. A survey (Safer Society, 1994) has indicated that these are the two most prevalent approaches in treatment programs for sex offenders. RP is a cognitive-behavioral treatment model that requires ongoing and thorough assessment of patient needs and treatment progress. It is designed to first help the offender identify the factors that place him or her at risk for sexual violence. Secondly, it assists him or her in planning, developing and practicing responses to cope with these high-risk factors to reduce his or her potential for relapse.

The institutional program is organized around this RP framework, and focuses on "offense specific" treatment components; that is, treatment components will be geared toward the identification and modification of risk factors for sexual offending.
When indicated, treatment plans also include individual therapy sessions, couples/family counseling, and behavioral reconditioning (for modifying deviant arousal patterns). Finally, the program will also provide a limited number of educational and vocational training activities.

Phases of Treatment Program

  • Treatment Readiness phase is for patients who have not committed themselves to
    actively work toward changing their sexual thoughts and behavior. This phase is primarily educational.
  • Skill Acquisition phase is for patients who have made a commitment to change the behavior that led to their sexual offending. Includes a full assessment and basic offense-specific treatment components.
  • Skill Application phase is for patients who have acquired skills in core program areas (victim awareness, cognitive restructuring, sexual arousal modification, identifying and coping with high-risk situations), but who need to practice and solidify skills.
  • Discharge Preparation phase is for patients who have been identified as ready to prepare detailed plans for conditional release and community treatment.
  • There are eight goals of the treatment program:
    • Develop and maintain a strong commitment not to re-offend.
    • Recognize and understand their mental disorders and how they relate to sexual offending.
    • Increase their sense of personal responsibility and decrease their use of justifications for sexual deviance.
    • Increase their awareness and understanding of the trauma experienced by victims of sexual abuse.
    • Decrease their deviant sexual interests, particularly those involving violence and predatory activities.
    • Understand and apply the basic concepts and techniques of Relapse Prevention.
    • Accurately identify their high-risk factors (internal and environmental factors that can facilitate sexual violence).
    • Improve their abilities to avoid and cope with high-risk factors.

When do you determine that an offender is ready for release to community supervision?

The law requires that the DSH develop a structured treatment protocol which shall also be used to assess treatment progress and changes with respect to the individual's risk of re-offense. For the Director of the Department of State Hospitals to recommend release of an SVP to the CONREP, the Department must believe that the SVP is no longer likely to commit predatory acts of sexual violence, if under supervision, and can be treated safely on an outpatient basis. The Director submits a recommendation to the court.

Conditional Release Program (CONREP)

The Conditional Release Program (CONREP) authorized in AB 2390 (Stirling, Chapter 1416, Statutes of 1985), is a state operated program charged with the protection of the public through the reduction or prevention of re-offense by specified forensic patients through the treatment and supervision. These services are provided in community settings to persons referred by criminal courts or by the Board of Parole Hearings to DSH. Since January 1986 the Conditional Release Program has supervised and treated in community settings, persons who were adjudicated Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity, Incompetent to Stand Trial, Mentally Disordered Sex Offenders, or persons found by the Board of Parole Hearings to be a Mentally Disordered Offender. Sexually Violent Predators are also served by CONREP.

The Conditional Release Program is a network of State-funded but locally provided services for the community evaluation, treatment and supervision of judicially committed, or "forensic" mental health patients. Typically, individuals are placed in community treatment after lengthy state hospitalization due to serious offenses. While in the program, each patient is required to undergo an intensive regimen of treatment and supervision. In the first two years of outpatient status, the regimen includes at least weekly individual contact, weekly group treatment, weekly drug screening, and monthly home visits, with treatments available as needed. Local programs must monitor patients carefully, and recommend to courts the revocation of community status of those who do not comply with the treatment regimen. The programs must also report to courts on the progress of all cases, and recommend program discharge when clients no longer require services. Additional services for Sexually Violent Predators (SVPs) released by the court to a CONREP can include surveillance, polygraph examinations, anti-androgen therapy, Global Positioning System, increased supervision through random visits and Penal Code 290 (relating to sex offenders) community notification.

Mentally Disordered Sex Offenders (MDSO)

The Mentally Disordered Sex Offender (MDSO) commitment in the Welfare and Institutions Code was created in Statutes of 1939. This category of commitment was repealed in 1981; however this designation remains for some individuals.

Enacted Legislation related to Sexually Violent Predator Commitments

  • SB 1143, by Senator Mountjoy, Chapter 762, Statutes of 1995 and AB 888, by Assemblyman Rogan, Chapter 763, Statutes of 1995, established a civil commitment process for persons determined by the courts to be an SVP.
  • AB 1496, by Assemblyman Sher, Chapter 4, Statutes of 1996, authorizes the Board of Prison Terms to impose a temporary 45-day hold on CDCR inmates where there is probable cause that the inmate may be an SVP.
  • AB 3483, Chapter 197, Statutes of 1996 (Budget Trailer Bill) authorized $10,780,000 to the Department of Mental Health for implementation of the SVP program and limits placement of SVP's at Atascadero State Hospital for the 1996-97 fiscal year.
  • AB 3130, by Assemblywoman Boland (R-Granada Hills), Chapter 462, Statutes of 1996, clarifies provisions governing the civil commitment of sexually violent predators to a secure facility. The bill expands current law to include predators who are familiar with, but have no substantial relationship with their victims. This bill is an urgency measure and took effect on September 13, 1996.
  • SB 2161, by Senator Leslie (R-Roseville), Chapter 461, Statutes of 1996, provides a definition of "substantial sexual conduct" involving a person under age 14. The bill clarified that a sex offense against a child under the age of 14 meets the definition of a sexually violent offense. Substantial sexual conduct does not require the presence of force, violence, duress, menace or fear of injury. The bill took effect on January 1, 1997.
  • SB 536, by Senator Mountjoy, Chapter 19, Statutes of 1998, included an amendment to the SVP statute to clarify that the 2-year period of commitment begins on the date of the court order of commitment, without reduction of time spent in a secure facility. SB 536 required that there be a finding of probable cause prior to a "pre-commitment" SVP admitted to the state hospital. Also persons already in state hospitals as "pre-commitments" must be returned to the county for a probable cause hearing.
  • SB 1976, by Senator Mountjoy, Statutes of 1998, included clarification that Atascadero State Hospital is to be used to house sexually violent predators only until a permanent housing and treatment facility is made available. This bill also requires that no more than 10 "pre-commitment" SVP state hospital patients can be returned to a county in one month to have a probable cause hearing pursuant to language in SB 536.
  • SB 786, by Senator Schiff, Chapter 350, Statutes of 1999, clarifies that a prior felony conviction based on a predecessor statute can be used at the time of sentencing to impose an enhancement or a term of imprisonment so long as the predecessor statute included all the elements of the current offense specified as a qualifying "prior felony conviction."
  • SB 746, by Schiff, Chapter 995, Statutes of 1999, expands the definition of prior convictions for purposes of the sexually violent predator (SVP) law to include juvenile adjudications where the minor was age 16 or older, committed a sexually violent offense, and was committed to the California Youth Authority (YA).
  • SB 451, by Schiff, Chapter 41, Statutes of 2000, provides that a sexually violent predator (SVP) may be held in custody, pending completion of the probable cause hearing. The probable cause hearing may continue beyond the SVP's scheduled release date.
  • SB 2018, by Schiff, Chapter 420, Statutes of 2000, authorizes a district attorney to request the Department of Mental Health (DMH) to perform updated evaluations of offenders subject to commitment as sexually violent predators (SVPs) for evidence at commitment and recommitment hearings. Updated evaluations would include reviews of medical and psychological records, including treatment records and interviews.
  • AB 2849, by Assembly Members Havice and Cardoza, Chapter 643, Statutes of 2000, expands the definition of "conviction" to include a conviction which resulted in an indeterminate sentence or probation as it relates to the sexually violent predator (SVP) law.
  • AB 1967, by Zettel, Chapter 139, Statutes of 2002, requires the DMH to notify law enforcement and designated Counsel with jurisdiction whenever DMH is notified, or becomes aware of, a SVP’s petition for conditional or unconditional release.
  • SB 903, by Chesbro, Chapter 27, Statutes of 2003, would recast  provisions to rename and reorganize the program as the Statewide Sexual Predator Apprehension Team, as specified. This bill would make other technical conforming changes.
  • AB 493, by Salinas, Chapter 222, statutes of 2004, provides that a conditionally released SVP shall be returned to his/her county of domicile prior to their incarceration unless the court finds extraordinary circumstances requiring placement out of county. This bill also requires the county of domicile to assist the DMH in locating and securing housing for the conditionally released SVP’s.
  • AB 2450, by Canciamilla, Chapter 425, Statutes of 2004, requires the DMH to give local agencies advance notice before submitting a recommendation to the court for the placement of a SVP. Agencies must also be notified when community placement is proposed by someone other than DMH.
  • AB 893, by Horton, S., Chapter 162, statutes of 2005, requires the DMH, when recommending to the court a community placement location for a sexually violent predator, to consider the age and profile of the SVP’s victims.
  • AB 131, Chapter 80, Section 20, statutes of 2005, authorizes the restructure of SVP services permitting the DMH to provide treatment services to SVP patients in an outpatient/day treatment model which will occur in a centralized hospital mall setting. Additionally, it ensures that those SVPs previously refusing treatment, who wish to begin receiving treatment services will have that opportunity offered to them on at least a monthly basis.
  • SB 383, by Maldonado, Chapter 137, statutes of 2005, permits the DMH to contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and with local law enforcement agencies for supervision of SVPs who have been released into the community under the Forensic Conditional Release Program (CONREP).
  • SB 723, by Denham, Chapter 486, statutes of 2005, prohibits any SVP who has a history of sexual abuse against a minor and who is released under the DMH’s Conditional Release Program (CONREP) from being placed within ¼ mile of any school providing instruction to children in kindergarten through grade 12.
  • SB1128, by Alquist, Chapter 337, statutes of 2006, enacts the Sex Offender Punishment, Control and Containments Act of 2006, which imposes harsher jail and prison sentences and longer and more stringent parole periods for individuals convicted of committing specified sexual offenses. It also changes the commitment of SVPs to an indeterminate term and would require courts to consider treatment participation when making decisions to discharge SVPs from incarceration. In addition, it requires the State to develop and adopt a State Authorized Risk Assessment Tool for Sex Offenders (SARATSO) to assess and identify the risks that all sexual offenders subject to the law pose to society, and to assign to these offenders the necessary supervision, control and containment that will better ensure our citizens’ safety; permitting a sex offender treatment pilot program for inmates convicted of committing sexual offenses; and providing new funding to counties for child abuse programs and for establishing Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement teams.
  • AB 1683, by Horton, S., Chapter 339, statutes of 2006, requires the DMH to provide to the court a copy of the written contract governing a SVP’s proposed outpatient treatment provided by any public or private person or entity.
  • AB 1849, by Leslie, Chapter 886, statutes of 2006, requires the DMH to provide the Department of Justice with specified information regarding SVPs upon their commitment to and release from a state hospital.
  • SB 1178, by Speier, Chapter 336, statutes of 2006, requires that individuals identified as sex offenders who are at high risk to re-offend, following assessment by a State-Authorized Risk Assessment Tool for Sex Offenders (SARATSO), to have enhanced parole supervision to include Global Positioning System (GPS) monitoring.
  • AB 1509, by Spitzer, Chapter 573, statutes of 2007, implements a recommendation of the California High Risk Sex Offender and SVP Task Force by defining the crime of the continuous abuse of a child as a violent felony. It provides that an inmate released on parole for this crime be prohibited from being returned to a location within 35 miles of the actual residence of a victim or witness of that felony, upon a victim or witness request.
  • SB 172, by Alquist, Chapter 579, statutes of 2007, makes modifications to the SARATSO system. It makes technical and clarifying changes to SB 1128 and Proposition 83 (Jessica’s Law) providing for various penalty provisions related to sex offenders under the Penal Code.
  • SB 542, by Romero, Chapter 208, statutes of 2007, provides that any right to DNA testing, which may exist for a person subject to the SVP Act, shall be in conformity with provisions relating to incarcerated persons, and would not limit any legal or equitable right to request DNA testing. This bill also states that it is not the intent of the Legislature to create any new right to DNA testing on prior cases.
  • SB 866, by Runner, Chapter 8, statutes of 2007, appropriates $12,532,000 to the State Department of Mental Health for the support of the Sex Offender Commitment Program during the 2006-07 fiscal years. It augments DMH’s base budget for 2006-07 to pay for the significant increase in the number of Sexually Violent Predator Clinical screenings, initial evaluations and some testimony resulting from implementing SB 1128, Alquist (Chapter 336, Statutes of 2006) in September 2006 and the passage of Jessica’s Law (Prop 83) in November 2006.