Not a state to be left out of the criminal justice trend, Wisconsin jumped onto the band wagon of CIVIL COMMITMENT in 1993, after Washington State became the first state in 1990 to enact civil commitment laws. The next state to enter the newest form of criminal justice was Minnesota to align with the views of Washington State. After Minnesota the encampment grew to eighteen (18) more states.

The Wisconsin Act 479 set into motion the act of involuntary civilly committing certain individuals who are found to be sexually violent persons (SVPs). The procedures described in Chapter 980 of the statutes became effective June 2, 1994. The statute also states that individuals who engaged in acts of sexual violence before that date may be committed as SVPs under the statute’s provisions.




As defined in the state statute a person who has been convicted of a 


  • Sexually violent offense,
  • has been adjudicated delinquent for a sexually violent offense or,
  • has been found not guilty of or not responsible for a sexually violent offense by reason of insanity or mental disease, defect, or illness, and,
  • who is dangerous because he or she suffers from a mental disorder that makes it more likely than not that the person will engage in acts of sexual violence.




  1. First degree sexual assault
  2. Second degree sexual assault
  3. First degree sexual assault of a child under the age of 13
  4. Second degree sexual assault of a child under age 16
  5. Engaging in repeated acts of sexual assault of the same child under age 16
  6. Incest with a child
  7. Child enticement 




Sexually violent offenses may include any of the following offenses if the offense is determined to be sexually motivated, which is described as one of the purposes for the act if for the offender’s sexual arousal or gratification.


  1. First degree intentional homicide
  2. First degree reckless homicide
  3. Second degree intentional homicide
  4. Second degree reckless homicide
  5. Battery, substantial battery, or aggravated battery
  6. Battery, substantial battery, or aggravated battery to an unborn child
  7. False imprisonment
  8. Taking hostages
  9. Kidnapping
  10. Burglary and finally may include 
  11. Any solicitation, conspiracy, or attempt to commit any of the previously listed offenses. 


Any adult person or juvenile who has finished a court mandated sentence for a sexually violent offense may now find themselves being committed as an SVP.


In Wisconsin, the civil commitment center is located in the community of Mauston.

The name of the institution belies the truth of what they really are. The name is Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center. When speaking of Sand Ridge, it would sound as if one is talking about an apartment complex and not a prison creating indescribable misery for people confined for life. The facility can be found approximately a mile from residential neighborhoods and is surrounded by fields, forests, and an industrial park.

Sand Ridge opened in 2001 about 70 miles northwest of Madison. It is one of the largest employers in the area with 537 full-time positions. Previously to being sent to Sand Ridge offenders were sent to state facilities for the mentally ill. 

Sand Ridge was built in 2001 with 300 beds at a taxpayer cost of $39 million. In 2009 an additional 200 beds were added. The offender population has since declined. In 2012 the facility had a budget of $50,9 million, up from $37.3 million in 2007. 

The advent of civil commitment centers has opened up a plethora of employment opportunities. The least of these being in the mental health field. There are now numerous employment opportunities for psychologists and social workers within the civil commitment institutions,  a place for persons committed under sexually violent predator (SVP) laws.

Once an offender is committed to Sand Ridge, psychologists evaluate his progress in treatment each year and use this historical data on recidivism to determine the offender’s risk level.

As with a large majority of civil commitment centers, the centers  seldom appear as treatment centers, mental health hospitals or any medical service provider. These centers are surrounded with double fences topped with razor wire and an electrified inner layer. A large majority of these units are securing the premises with an armed security guard while inside the guards carry pepper spray and flashlights. The units appear to the general population (society-at-large) as another maximum-security prison. This appearance is not deceiving due to the fact that the people living within the housing are treated less than prison inmates. Abuses, medical neglect, psychological warfare, and deliberate attempts to discourage any family support structure or support of any nature is rampant among civil commitment centers. 

There have been six incidents of patient-against-patient physical assault since Sand Ridge began tracking incidents in mid-2011. There have been no incidents of sexual assault reported.

The visitors that are permitted within the Sand Ridge walls must first clear a metal detector then a gate in a razor wire fence and several secure doors.

There are few if any commitment centers that provide courses in skilled labor or trade programs such as construction or electrical. The types of jobs available to inmates (residents/patients/clients) are usually kitchen jobs or janitorial positions. The pay for these positions will vary from state to state. In Wisconsin, the pay starts at $2 per hour and may only increase as treatment progresses. In Texas the offender may not hold an in-house position until they reach tier 3. The pay is the federal minimum wage of $7.80 per hour. Taxes, fees, savings, and recovery costs are taken out of the check by the operating unit. Recovery cost is 25 percent of the total check. The residents are only allowed to work four hours per day.

 In the Wisconsin case of Branden Sustman vs. Steve Watters, Director (Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center) et al, 06-C-293-C. Mr. Sustman stated that he was punished in violation of his substantive due process rights when the defendants deprived him of access to his job, school, church services and the game room because he would not sign a statement against another patient. This type of punishment occurs on a daily basis in most if not all of the civil commitment centers. The coercion used here is typical of psychology warfare abuse without any consequence to the abusers for their actions.

 $141,400 per year is the average cost per sex offender and are among the most expensive patients that the taxpayer dollars pay to lock up, feed, keep healthy and to treat the men at Sand Ridge. This amount is what Wisconsin taxpayers paid in 2013. 

Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center was originally built to hold 300 prisoners but increased in size to accommodate 500 men. The center showed an occupancy of 300 men in February 2014.

Why is the cost so extreme? Kevin Moore, deputy secretary of the state Department of Health Services, 2013, said in an interview by WisconsinEye, that Sand Ridge must not only provide 24/7 prison-like security, room, and board but also adopt new, better treatment methods as they become available. Sand Ridge requires about 1.5 (is the .5 employee a midget?) employees for every SVP. Mental Health specialists who treat SVPs have unique, expensive skills.

Treatment is difficult at Sand Ridge as it is with the centers who fail to keep staff employed to provide the court ordered treatment. How can men progress in treatment when the operators are short staffed and cut individual hours of therapy as well as support groups? These operators of the civil commitment find that being short in clinical staffing is twofold. Men cannot progress in treatment, thereby continuing to serve life sentences and saving the cost of treatment if only for short periods. States are hesitant to sanction these places for staff shortage.

In the five years preceding 2014, 114 offenders have been released, compared to only 31 released in the previous five-year period.

In May of 2018, the Wisconsin Supreme Court unanimously ruled that defendants need not be informed that pleading guilty to certain sex crimes will subject them to lifetime GPS monitoring because that requirement is not a punishment.

After a sex offender is released, they then must submit to the wearing of a GPS tracking system. Sex offenders convicted of sexual offenses involving minors are required to wear GPS transmitters on their ankles for the rest of their lives with the following exceptions:


  • If they leave the state
  • Become permanently incapacitated,
  • Successfully petition a court for relief after 20 years.

Trackers can cause blistering, especially when wet, creates a noticeable bulge and is visible whenever the offender wears shorts or sits down. A speaker can be used to issue commands or reminders which can be heard by anyone within earshot of the offender. The offender also has to sit near an electrical outlet one hour a day to recharge the tracker. They are required to pay for the use of the tracker.

Along with facilitating constant surveillance, GPS tracking is an obvious visible sign that marks anyone who wears it as someone to be shunned, feared, despised, and perhaps worse. This mark of shame compounds the stigma associated with registration as a sex offender. According to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, public shaming is incidental to the primary purpose of the tracking device, which is regulatory rather than punitive. 

The Wisconsin Supreme Court also said that the use of GPS provides a middle ground between releasing a dangerous sex offender into the public wholly unsupervised and civil commitment. Those required to wear a conspicuous ankle monitor are forced to stay in their inclusion areas and out of the exclusion areas for the rest of their lives.  The legislators of this law feel that those wearing ankle monitors should shut up and be grateful that they get to walk about in public at all. To think that these legislators are taking taxpayer dollars and using their own biases to make new laws. Laws they apply to people who have served a prison sentence, then worked their way through treatment to release only to be imprisoned again by a GPS tracker until they die. 

It is of utmost importance that sexual offender treatment is available during incarceration for sexual offenders. Consideration for release on parole or other reductions in intensity of services should use information from treatment, particularly validated measures demonstrating risk reductions and treatment gains. Transitional services are a vital component for maintaining community safety. Prison treatment in conjunction with community-based reentry services reduces the risk for future sexual reoffending (Lowden  et al., 2003). This information is based on the ATSA Civil Commitment: One Approach for the Management of Individuals Who Have Sexually Abused, 2020., Shaming the Constitution, Michael L. Perlin and Heather Ellis Cucolo.

 “Justice Clarence Thomas writing for the majority in Hendricks, speculated that civil commitment would be reserved for only a “narrow class of particularly dangerous individuals….after meeting the strictest procedural standards. That supposed “narrow” class becomes quite expansive when states broaden the group of individuals who fall under the statutory definition of committing a “sexually violent offense,” and the likelihood of a scenario—cautioned about by Justice Anthony Kennedy in his concurrence…where civil commitment become{s} a mechanism for retribution or general deterrence is greatly increased.”

The entire SVPA process is cloaked in confusion and infused with fear and differences in legal and medical definitions creating imprecision and arbitrariness.

In spite of the overwhelming data demonstrating the fact of low recidivism rates for sexual offenders as compared with other criminals, bias and stigma surrounding sexual offenses is the fire fueling legislation. Current studies are ignored, and disregarded, while unfounded myths form the basis for new legislation.

Lawyers and mental health professionals are confronted with new, challenging roles in SVP cases. The laws that necessarily involve those with legal and medical training were unfortunately poorly designed to integrate the two fields because of the political backdrop against which such legislation is adopted. Americans overwhelmingly support restrictions on sex offenders, and collateral restrictions on that population are typically  passed unanimously with no debate [23], It should not be surprising then that SVP statutes seeking to unite law and medicine have failed to accomplish the basic requirements of either field. AMA Journal of Ethics, Policy Forum, Oct.2013 Civil Commitment for Sex Offenders.

The same legal and medical professionals who agree that the medical and legal fields poorly integrate also state that only about 2 to 5 percent of those who are civilly committed actually need to be confined. It is their opinion that if the vast majority of those re-incarcerated need more therapy, they should be able to receive it as an outpatient.

With such a low rate of convicted SVPs not belonging in civil commitment then the question to lawmakers, psychologist and those involved  in committing men to civil commitment is why is the number for SVPs growing rather than reducing? The most obvious answer would have to be that civil commitment centers are cash cows for the local economies they are serving.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. I will gratefully accept any personal knowledge or information that you may have regarding civil commitment or if you wish to disagree with what has been written, contact me through this website.

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