In August 2003, the Pennsylvania Legislature enacted Act 21 for adjudicated youth, aging out of the juvenile justice system who have a "mental abnormality" that renders them unable to control their violent sexual impulses. The Act mandates DHS provide mental health and sex-offense specific treatment to an identified population that had been adjudicated of certain sex crimes, received treatment in a juvenile program, yet remains a significant risk to sexually re-offend after reaching the age of 21, an age when oversight by the juvenile justice system typically ends. The Act requires the referral of such individuals who have committed these specific crimes to the Pennsylvania Sexual Offenders Assessment Board (SOAB) ninety days prior to their 20th birthday for purposes of determining if the individual has "serious difficulty in controlling sexually violent behavior." If so determined, a petition for a mental health hearing will be made for determination of civil commitment to the Sexual Responsibility and Treatment Program (SR & TP) on the grounds of Torrance State Hospital.
Act 21 established an advisory committee for the purposes of developing a treatment program and standards of care for individuals civilly committed under the Act. The advisory committee is made up of individuals representing the Office of Children, Youth and Families (OCYF), the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS), the Juvenile Court Judges Commission (JCJC), the Sexual Offenders Assessment Board (SOAB), probation officers, and private providers. Copies of the program standards are available by contacting OMHSAS on Harrisburg.
1. What is Act 21?
Act 21 became law on August 14, 2003 in response to increasing concerns about the release of a juvenile sex offender who had been determined to still present a high risk of danger to the community. The Act sets forth a process for identifying individuals about to turn 21 who may still be in need of further treatment before they return to their community. Act 21 provides a process for the civil commitment of these individuals to a program designed to provide specialized treatment.
2. How does someone get committed to the Sexual Responsibility and Treatment Program (SRTP)?
The client's juvenile probation officer makes a referral through the county solicitor to the Sexual Offenders Assessment Board (SOAB) who completes an assessment and makes a recommendation. If the SOAB recommends further treatment, the county solicitor will petition the court for a commitment hearing. The individual has a right to an attorney and to be examined by an expert in sexual offenses to help prepare a case on their behalf. The judge will render the commitment decision.
3. How long is a commitment good for?
The commitment period is not to exceed one year, but can be renewed yearly for an indefinite number of years.
4. Does the individual have to participate in the assessment by the SOAB?
No. This is a decision to be made between the individual and their legal representative. However, the SOAB is still required to review relevant documents and provide the court with its recommendations.
5. What is the Sexual Responsibility and Treatment Program?
This is a residential program specifically designed for sex offenders with mental abnormalities that reach their 21st birthday and age out of the juvenile justice system. The program will be located on the grounds of Torrance State Hospital in Westmoreland County.
6. Is the SRTP part of Torrance State Hospital?
Yes, the program is part of the hospital but is a separate and secure unit on the grounds.
7. What role do the counties have in Act 21?
Each county is responsible for all aspects of the commitment, recommitment process and providing aftercare for individuals from their respective county.
8. Will individuals be moved back and forth from Torrance to their home counties for assessments and court appearances?
Yes, however, the SRTP will make every attempt not to disrupt the individual's treatment. Whenever possible, individuals will not be transported back and forth, however there will be times when individuals will need to be transported back to their home county to participate in an assessment and/or a court proceeding. Video conference hearings and examinations are also utilized to minimize travel and treatment disruptions.
9. Who is responsible to transport?
The home county. All aspects of the process begin on the county level and this includes, but is not limited to; making the arrangements, facilitating and pay for the transportation. When the recommitment hearing is due this process once again reverts to the home county for processing. The SRTP, however, has been able to accommodate various counties in assisting with transportation in specific instances.
10. Where will the individual stay if overnight accommodations are required?
If they have not yet been civilly committed and are still considered a juvenile they will most likely stay in the nearest juvenile detention center. During their stay they will need to be segregated from the rest of the population at the detention center.
11. What about overnight accommodations if they are already 21 years of age?
This would only apply to subsequent hearings once the individual has been committed to the program. Overnight travel has not been required to this point as video conferencing has been utilized to reduce the amount of transport and overnights that would be needed. If the presence of the resident is required the time of the hearing has been scheduled to allow for sufficient one day travel time.
12. Is there an appeal process?
Yes. The individual can also petition the court at any time during their one year commitment if they believe they no longer meet the criteria for continued commitment.
13. Is there any other way an individual can be released from the program?
Yes. The Executive Director of the SRTP can petition the court for early release if the director believes the individual no longer meets the criteria for continued commitment.
14. What is the role of the SOAB in the case of early release?
An assessment by the board must be completed prior to an individual's release for any reason or at any time.
15. How many times can a person be recommitted?
There is no limit. As long as the individual is deemed to continue to meet the criteria of the Act their commitment can be renewed annually.
16. What role do the County MH/MR services have in this process?
The County's MH/MR administrators will be required to develop plans to provide long-range aftercare for individuals being discharged from the program. These plans should be developed in coordination with the local state hospital service area planning initiative. These individuals fit the criteria referred to as "special populations" for the purposes of service area planning.
17. What is the state hospital service area planning process?
This is a process going on across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the purposes of planning and developing mental health services in each local community for the future.
18. How can I participate or give input into the planning process?
By contacting your local county MH/MR administrator or by contacting the CEO of your local state hospital.
19. When you say individuals are kept in a secure facility what does that mean?
It means that they reside on a locked unit in a locked building and they cannot leave the building without staff supervision until the final stages of discharge planning.
20. How was the SRTP set up?
The law identified the Department of Human Services to manage the program and established an Act 21 Advisory Committee to develop treatment standards for the program.
21. How can I get a copy of the program treatment standards?
By contacting the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services in Harrisburg.
22. Does Act 21 address all identified sexually violent predators?
No. This Act only applies to those individuals who are in a juvenile detention or treatment facility and they are about to turn 21 years of age. Anyone who is already 21 years of age is not affected by Act 21.
23. What is the SOAB?
The Sexual Offenders Assessment Board is a group of independent and experienced professionals in the field of sexual offenses. They are most likely psychiatrists, psychologists or social workers with specific clinical expertise in this field. The board assigns assessors on a case-by-case basis. The assigned assessor reviews the clinical record of the referred client, interviews the individual as appropriate and conducts whatever other investigative processes are necessary to make an informed recommendation to the court.
24. I am familiar with the Mental Health Procedures Act, but is this a different type of commitment?
Yes. This is a "civil" commitment for the purposes of treatment, but these individuals are not committed to this program through the regular Mental Health Procedures Act process. This is a totally separate and distinct commitment process.
25. Do the regulations and rights provided under the Mental Health Procedures Act apply to individuals committed under Act 21?
The Department of Human Services has decided that the current regulations; policies or procedures used in the Mental Health facilities would remain in place and apply to the SRTP population as well. The Department of Human Services and the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services are committed to providing the best treatment possible. The intent of the DHS and the OMHSAS is to protect the rights of the clients being served, while providing a safe and secure facility for the protection of the community.
26. What protections are in place for the community?
Now that we have the SRTP, individuals will be receiving the care they need in a safe and secure setting. When anyone is discharged from the program we will develop an aftercare plan specific to that individual. The combination of treatment, containment and aftercare, we believe, will reduce the risk to the community and previous victims of sexual violence.
27. What is the exact role of the juvenile's treating agency with regards to the Act 21 program?
The role of the agency is to work collaboratively with all of the stakeholders in processing the referral for evaluation for commitment to the Act 21 program. This includes, but is not limited to, providing all requested information in a timely manner, assisting in the interviews necessary to complete the evaluation and collaborating with all other facilities when transportation of the individual is necessary.
28. What responsibilities will the case managers have with regards to Act 21 students?
The case managers will be working collaboratively with juvenile probation and the SOAB in assuring the complete information requested is forwarded. There may be a necessity to assist the individual in obtaining counsel and/or an expert for the purposes of preparing their case. Certain staff may also be required to provide testimony during commitment proceedings.
29. Who has responsibility for reporting (notification) juveniles who will be aging out of the system?
The juvenile probation officer is the one designated to start the referral process.
30. What information will the facility be asked to provide about any potential Act 21 candidates?
All of the treatment records pertaining to the youth during their placement/treatment as well as any other documents that are deemed appropriate and necessary for evaluation of the need for continued treatment in the Act 21 program. However, the facility is responsible for providing the information to the individual's probation officer. It is the responsibility of the probation officer to forward the information to the SOAB in a timely manner.
31. If asked to provide information concerning a specific individual, how does this impact HIPAA regulation?
With appropriate authorizations or a court order, the flow of information for the purposes of treatment is allowed under HIPAA. We do not believe there is any issue at this time regarding HIPAA and the information that will be shared.
32. Where will individuals be housed during the assessment period?
Most assessments take place at the residents current placement, when the individual needs to be housed during the initial evaluation this will most likely occur at a juvenile detention facility near or in the home county. All attempts are being made to move the individuals as little as possible. If interviews can be conducted using video conferencing we will try to do this whenever possible.
33. At what age will the individual be removed from his/her current placement to the Act 21 program?
They will be moved on or before their 21st birthday.
34. Are there any liabilities to the juvenile facility and the case managers?
Yes. Similar to any employee working in a human service agency, there is a risk of liability when providing treatment and referring individuals for additional care.
35. Who pays for the treatment at the SRTP?
At this time, the program is fully funded by the Commonwealth.
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