Day 3. Eric, 39, has been locked up for more than half his life. He finished his criminal sentence and was committed to the state as a sexually violent person in 2002. He has been confined more than twice as long as his original sentence and is now held for the future risk he poses, not for past crimes.
From the outside, Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center looks like a maximum security prison. Inside, more than 300 men live there, committed there by juries and judges throughout the state as “sexually violent persons.” The challenge, for staff, is to treat and reintegrate them into communities.
Center reporter Nora Hertel and Wisconsin Public Radio reporter Gilman Halsted were the first journalists since 2007 to tour Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center, the Mauston facility that houses sex offenders who have been committed to the state.
Wisconsin officials have nearly quadrupled the number of offenders released from state custody after they were committed as sexually violent persons. The risks to residents are reasonable, officials say, because the state’s treatment programs are working and new data suggest these offenders are less likely to reoffend than previously thought.
Despite the wake-up call sounded nationwide by recent mass shootings, huge gaps remain in how Wisconsin treats people with mental illnesses who run afoul of the law. State and county officials blame a shortage of psychiatrists, growing demand for services and high medication costs.
The state Department of Corrections hopes the federal Affordable Care Act will help released offenders get Medicaid. Starting next year, all Wisconsin residents below the poverty line will be eligible for BadgerCare Plus.