To the editor:

I write in reaction to the recent settlement of the class-action suit in federal court involving alleged sexually violent predators, which recently was on the front page of the Law Journal ["State Settles Class Action Charging Inferior Therapy for Sex Offenders," Dec. 10, 2012].

As an alleged sexually violent predator who is civilly committed at Avenel, and one of numerous persons who was able to submit objections to the court about the settlement, I can say that one of the major flaws is that, whereas in high school or college you graduate after completing a four-year course, the settlement omits such a procedure or guarantee. That leaves those committed here with no such goal or expectancy — as well as with no hope, which is critical in motivating.

What the staff and court hide from is the fact that not all patients here are curable, or even manageable. Being expected to go to group therapy without being considered for release makes absolutely no sense, other than to give us false hope. This is one reason why most patients here have no faith or belief in the program, the civil-commitment court or now the federal court after such a “charade” of a settlement. That was the word used by Justice Barry Albin of the N.J. Supreme Court about being denied treatment in prison only to “need” it after completion of the sentence. The federal court avoided this due process concern in approving the settlement, since it narrowed down numerous issues into only one: treatment.

I can say for a fact that two patients here have been told that they will never leave but are expected to go to group therapy — logic that is circular and thus flawed. As for myself, a person who was sent to prison for the first time in my life at age 36 for a crime I did not commit, the therapy and settlement does not apply to me, since I have appeals of the conviction pending. Despite this, I was forced into consolidation with an issue that does not apply to me.

The most absurd part of the settlement is that the court avoided issues such as the housing of civil detainees for treatment in a prison that was designed and built for punishment — lacking in space and privacy and under the watch of the Department of Corrections, an organization that is focused on punishment through fear, violence and terror in a most repressive manner. That clearly is not just counterproductive and antitherapeutic but harmful, to say the least.

Ironically, Judge Dennis Cavanaugh had us moved into the DOC’s worst facility, an administrative segregation building, but dismissed as a defendant a health-care provider — CMS, which was a DOC contractor — without objection from our court-appointed lawyers, and then stated in his opinion that the DOC issues were not part of this case. Once again, the logic is circular and thus flawed. Clearly, common sense dictates that you cannot even begin to address therapeutic needs or mental health while living under such repressive and deplorable conditions.

Over the years, the Appellate Division has stated that the judges who hear Sexually Violent Predator Act cases here, such as Recall Judge Philip Freedman, are the “experts” in this field, but that begs a question. How, after almost 14 years, could they not see how deficient and unconstitutional the program here is?

Joseph Aruanno, No. 363
Special Treatment Unit