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Franklin County officials hear treatment options for juvenile sexual offenders

June 23, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Court representatives working with juveniles who have committed sexual offenses have an option to send them to a treatment program before they are released back to society, the Franklin County (Pa.) Criminal Justice Advisory Board was told Thursday.

Dr. Vito DonGiovanni spoke on behalf of the Sexual Responsibility and Treatment Program at Torrance State Hospital, 45 miles east of Pittsburgh.

Specific timelines must be met for entrance into the program, which came about under Pennsylvania's Act 21 of 2003, DonGiovanni said. Otherwise, the sexual offenders' criminal past will be erased at age 21 and they will be sent into society without having to register under Megan's Law, he said.

DonGiovanni said his program provides an opportunity for people convicted of certain sexual crimes like rape to undergo "involuntary inpatient care" that provides 15 hours a week of therapy. The law states that civil commitment is for offenders with "serious difficulty controlling sexually violent behavior," and the county must show that the potential client has a mental abnormality or personality disorder that means the person cannot control acting out again.

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"We get them out of handcuffs and shackles as quickly as we can if their behavior allows it," DonGiovanni said.

The Torrance State Hospital program - which DonGiovanni said is the only program in the nation for young adults - has 17 people enrolled, none from Franklin or Fulton counties. Two clients are preparing to exit the program, although DonGiovanni has concerns because he said the law makes no provisions for mandatory after-care or monitoring.

DonGiovanni, executive director of the SRTP, said he has been working to change that.

"We certainly hope we don't keep the young adults in inpatient treatment for seven years. We're not in business to keep these individuals with us forever," DonGiovanni said.

A lot of the 22-year-olds in the program act like they are 13 because they missed out on their adolescence while in custody, DonGiovanni said. Some have been victims of sexual offenses themselves, while others have not, he said.

None are currently on sex-related medications, like those that lower testosterone levels, according to DonGiovanni.

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