What is the Jimmy Ryce Act?

The Jimmy Ryce Act allows the “involuntary commitment” of violent sex offenders following a criminal prison sentence.

For most crimes, a person is free to go home after serving their jail time.  However, for violent sex offenders it’s not that simple. There is an extra evaluation that needs passing. The State Attorneys Office, and the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) will evaluate each offender individually. These organizations look for signs of behavioral change before granting release.

This review determines the likelihood of a repeat offense.  The Jimmy Ryce Act comes into play when the State Attorney’s Office believes that the criminal is a “Sexually Violent Offender” and shows signs that make the person more likely to commit a similar crime in the future.  

“Any person who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense and suffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes the person likely to engage in acts of sexual violence if not confined in a secure facility for long-term control, care, and treatment.”

– “Sexually Violent Offender” as defined by Fla. Stat. § 394.912(10)

Prepare for a Trial

Those convicted of a sex crime do nots fit into one mold.  There are two, those that are sexually violent, and those that are not.  The goal of The Jimmy Ryce Act is to limit the chances of a repeat offense. The Jimmy Ryce Act is a civil matter not criminal. The commitment process is separate from the criminal portion of the crime and carried out following the prison sentence.

If the Office of the State Attorney believes that a person in custody is a violent sex offender, 180 days before to release, they may file a petition to have that person marked “sexually violent”.  The Department of Children and Families have a team to help determine this label.  The team includes at least 2 Psychologists/Psychiatrists who will determine the mental state of the person in question.

Once a petition starts, the state needs to prove probable cause that the person in question is a threat to society and needs help.  Following a trial, the court will decide whether or not there is “clear and convincing” evidence to suggest the person is dangerous to society.  

If the DCF is successful, after the prison sentence, the inmate will undergo treatment at Arcadia’s Civil Commitment Center . This facility in Arcadia, FL is where committed offenders stay indefinitely under the custody of the DCF.

At all times, persons who are detained or committed under this part shall be kept in a secure facility segregated from patients of the department who are not detained or committed under this part

– Fla. Stat. § 394.917(2)

The Department of Children and Families’ (DCF) Role

The DCF oversees the control, care and treatment of the sexually violent individuals.  As long as a person is a danger to society, treatment will continue. Under the Jimmy Ryce Act, the length of this treatment can last anywhere from a few months, to a lifetime.

Unfortunately, there is little ability for committed individuals to seek alternative treatments or options for reform. Many committed offenders see little differences between the rehabilitation center and prison.

Moreover, the for-profit nature of the facility and its motives continually raises questions about its true purpose. Every state has some kind of civil commitment program. Florida’s Jimmy Ryce Act is just one form of civil commitment. It’s important to remember that this is not a criminal matter. No one is being “punished”; only held for their safety and the publics. The Civil Commitment Center has little oversight and many find the treatments to be ineffective and in need of reform themselves.

Civil Commitment

Every civil commitment program’s goal is to “treat” mental health issues in its patients. For all the committed sexually violent individuals, treatment is an ongoing process.

It can be difficult for individuals to get the help they need in the Civil Commitment Center. Unfortunately, for them, offering treatment is more important than the quality of treatment. Offering treatment is one of the key factors allowing the Jimmy Ryce Act to be legal. Without treatment, the Jimmy Ryce Act begins to look too much like an additional prison sentence which would be unconstitutional.

Escaping the Jimmy Ryce System

Every year each committed person is entitled to a hearing. This hearing will determine if a person’s mental condition has improved enough to return into society.

If the hearing finds enough improvement, a non-jury trial will take place.  Part of the Jimmy Ryce Act dictates that the person on trial does not have the right to a jury trial, and that the burden of proof falls on the state. to prove that persons condition has not improved enough to allow release. 

If the state fails to prove the person is still dangerous, that person will be eligible for release.  However, if the state succeeds, that person will return to the Civil Commitment Center and treatment resumes until the next year.  The committed people, have extremely limited rights. This includes the inability to testify at their own release hearings.  These rules make it difficult for both the state, and the committed person to prove themselves.  When someone finds themself in this situation, it is important to know what to expect.

In addition to the annual review, if the secretary of the Department of Children and Families decides that a person is not likely to commit acts of sexual violence if discharged, the secretary can authorize that person to petition the court for release.  It this happens, the court will hold a trial within 30 days to determine the eligibility for release.

Conclusion

The Jimmy Ryce Act is a very controversial law, and one that is not without flaws.  The purpose of the act is to protect the general population against dangerous individuals, but unfortunately many times falls short.  

The Sun Sentinel, preformed an investigation and found several shortcomings of the Jimmy Ryce Act.

At least 594 offenders reviewed under the law and let go have been convicted of a new sex offense in Florida. Nearly one quarter of them attacked again within six months of being released.  

– Sun Sentinel

Unfortunately there is no way to know what a person will do in the future.  Because of stats like those above, the state continues to crack down on the release process. The difficulty in gaining release can have a life long impact on those committed who have changed.

Having a criminal attorney, who understands the intricacies of sex crimes, and what to look for can make a big difference in a persons eventual freedom.  Going into court with proper representation can help ensure a proper sentence even before commitment.

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