Iowa’s civil commitment program — a first-hand account

By Sandy . . . “Sex offender” civil commitment is one of the cruelest of all practices to evolve from laws targeting men with sexual crime convictions. NARSOL has long engaged in advocacy against this practice, stating in our goals and positions, “NARSOL opposes the use of post-sentence civil commitment as it is now practiced with those having sexual crime convictions, which is as a means to extend the incarceration period beyond the court-imposed sentence.”

We have, over the years, engaged with protests and information campaigns against the civil commitment programs in a variety of states, among them Rushville in Illinois, Littlefield in Texas, and Moose Lake in Minnesota.

We had not had our attention brought to the facility in Iowa until a man incarcerated in a state institution there wrote to us and enclosed a piece he has written about the Iowa’s CCUSO – Civil Commitment Unit for Sex Offenders. Written as a letter addressed “Dear potential CCUSO prisoners” and signed “Possible Future CCUSO Prisoner,” he paints a stark and terrifying picture.

First addressing the required treatment program, he writes:

Regular prison SOTP treatment programs last three to six months depending what level of SOTP program you are put in. The community SOTP treatment can safely rehabilitate an offender in a treatment program in about a year. Community groups generally meet once a week up to an hour and a half. That is far shorter than the failing CCUSO’s five-year plan. It seems very few ever leave the program and get discharged from CCUSO, according to research studies. In the first ten years of CCUSO’s existence, only one person discharged. It is interesting to note that CCUSO uses the same treatment workbooks the community and state prison use. Something is seriously wrong here.

He then writes, “After much research, talking to people and looking up appellate cases on-line, it appears CCUSO has been known to give out false or questionable disciplinary reports. Why? CCUSO then uses the disciplinary reports to prove during your annual review with the court that you are still unfit to return to society.”

He also says, “CCUSO uses mandatory regular polygraphs during your treatment. You are punished, demoted, and charged a fee if you fail your polygraph. The CCUSO policy manual is very clear on this.”

He then addresses something that, among many, is considered a dark chapter in our law enforcement history.

CCUSO will also use the long time controversial penile plethysmograph test to aid in their quest to keep you civilly committed. Again, the highly invasive plethysmograph test has done little over the years to prove the offenders’ deviant thought processes. I was a victim of this test many years ago before it was banned from the prison and community programs. Fortunately, I passed the test. The plethysmograph is no longer allowed as part of the State of Iowa’s community or prison treatment programs. What makes CCUSO exempt to this highly invasive testing? I can’t answer that.

The letter closes with information that we have not been able to verify but do not doubt to be accurate.

The last thing I want to cover is cost of treatment. If you think you are going to be heading to CCUSO, be vigilant. Per policy, CCUSO will go after your bank accounts, retirement accounts, property etc. that you may own to help pay for your treatment. This makes you worth nothing. What is hypocritical about this is that if you ever graduate from the program, you must have $2,000 in your CCUSO savings account. This is to help you get started back into the community, which is good, but then again CCUSO should not have wiped out any of your savings or property you had, leaving you with nothing. You cannot break free of CCUSO. You will always be in one of their traps.

NARSOL is adding the Iowa CCUSO program to its official protest list of state civil commitment programs. These programs have much in common, the greatest of which is creating in those they are supposed to be helping a feeling of total helplessness and hopelessness.

If someone with a sexual crime conviction is nearing his discharge date and is still in need of treatment, he should be treated in the mental health system, not an extension of the prison system.

a guest writer

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2 Thoughts to “Iowa’s civil commitment program — a first-hand account”

  1. AvatarLarry T

    I am on federal supervised release and am also required to take periodic polygraph exams that if failed will cost me between $200 and $250.
    Failure alone can also be used to violate me and put me back in prison.
    The sudo science of poligraphy has been proven to be totally subjective and based upon the OPINION of the operator. The federal court would not let me use this technology to prove my innocents, but will use it to put me back in prison.
    I know that I am repeating what others have said or tried to say, but, a conviction of a sexual nature of any kind is a life sentence. You will never be free again. Your liberties are taken. Your rights cease to exist. You can only do what someone else allows you to do.
    Between the draconian statutes and the registry and all the bogus studies and scare tactics we will not be able to live as free men and women.
    Our futures are so unknown I don’t expect to ever be seen for who I am and not the crime I was convicted of.
    Thanks Sandy. I know how hard you all try and the frustration that you feel must at times seem overwhelming, but any positive progress is truly welcomed.
    Thanks for this forum. It must take an exorbitant amount of time and energy on the part of all of you.
    God bless and keep you.

  2. AvatarR.Arens

    They get away with this stuff because they can. Iowa is really corrupt with their sex offender laws and how they’re implemented and enforced. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s like a good ol boy network where everybody is in everyone’s pockets. You can’t fight anything, get anything voted out, repealed or overturned. Law makers don’t care. Judges both federal and state don’t care. You can raise the best most compelling argument in the world against civil commitment or them giving out life parole to everyone like it’s free candy but they’ll shoot it down citing its necessity to public safety trumps the unconstitutional nature of the sex offender law in question and it just gets left at that. It infuriates me how disproportionate Iowa’s sex offender laws really are and that nobody cares to do anything about them. So when I see a Iowa story pop up, I put my two cents in because this affects my life too. Something’s gotta be done about it.

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