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The island where Washington State sends its sex offenders

Washington State uses this island as a facility for the civil commitment of the state's most violent sex offenders

by Mimi Dwyer, Kristin Fraser, and Ben Anderson
Jan 8 2018, 5:59pm

The Puget Sound is mostly filled with upscale bedroom communities and vacation homes. But McNeil Island is different: its only inhabitants are 236 "sexually violent predators" whose prison sentences have ended but who the state refuses to release.

The residents are, in Washington State's view, its worst rapists and child molesters. The state has decided they are more likely than not to commit new offenses, and so, using a process called "civil commitment," shipped them to this island treatment facility against their will. Many have been held for over a decade.

Nineteen other states have facilities like the one on McNeil Island. The treatment they provide, and whether or not residents ever qualify for release, varies considerably. Very little research has been done on whether civil commitment reduces sex offenders' chances of committing new crimes, but the Supreme Court has ruled the facilities legal. The court declined to revisit the issue last year.

VICE News visited McNeil Island and spoke to Justin, a serial child molester who has been committed for 10 years, and who recently convinced the state that he should be released.

This segment originally aired January 5, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.