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In re Civil Commitment of V.A.

May 26, 2005

IN THE MATTER OF THE CIVIL COMMITMENT OF V.A., SVP 25-99.


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, SVP-25-99.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fuentes, J.A.D.

RECORD IMPOUNDED

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Argued February 8, 2005

Before Judges Lefelt, Fuentes and Falcone.

This appeal arises out of the civil commitment of V.A. as a sexually violent predator, pursuant to the provisions of the Sexually Violent Predators Act (SVPA), N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.24 to - 27.38. The arguments raised here require us to revisit an issue we addressed in our earlier opinion, In re Commitment of V.A., 357 N.J. Super. 55 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 177 N.J. 490 (2003) (V.A. I). In V.A. I, we reversed the trial court's conditional release order, because the court's prediction of V.A.'s behavior outside the structured setting of the Special Treatment Unit (STU) was not supported by an "inpatient transitional experience."

We thus directed the Department of Human Services (DHS) "to develop and implement within a reasonable amount of time the programs and systemic protocols necessary to bring about the gradual de-escalation of restraints." Id. at 65. These programs would provide the trial judge "with a rational and more reliable basis to assess the committee's likelihood of successful reintegration into society." Id. at 64. V.A. now argues that the DHS has failed to comply with our directive. Specifically, he raises the following argument:

POINT ONE

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN REFUSING TO RULE ON WHETHER THE STATE HAS COMPLIED WITH THE DIRECTIVE OF THIS COURT IN ITS PRIOR RULING IN THIS CASE. THIS APPELLATE ISSUE SHOULD BE SUMMARILY DISPOSED OF THROUGH A REMAND TO THE TRIAL COURT WITH APPROPRIATE INSTRUCTIONS.

We disagree and affirm.

The record shows that, in response to our directive in V.A. I, the DHS assembled a "working group" of medical professionals and representatives of the Department of Corrections. On September 27, 2003, this group completed a document called "The Written Plan for the Provision of Resident Care" (WPRC). The document describes five different "Phases of Treatment," each representing a gradual relaxation of the restraints attending confinement in the secured environment of the STU. Dr. Merill Berger, Chief Forensic Psychologist for the Division of Mental Health Services, characterized the WPRC as "a work in progress." Dr. Berger was unable to provide a statistical breakdown of committees' progress under the standards articulated in the WPRC.*fn1 The document itself, however, provides a series of time projections for an individual going through the program's five phases of treatment. What follows is a summary of the material therapeutic elements of each phase, together with their respective time projections for successful completion:

Phase I [Intake]: . . . During this phase, residents become familiar with the mission of the STU, with the commitment process and with unit rules and expectations. Information is gathered and residents are assessed for ...


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