Special Commitment Center on path to creating model national program, inspection team says

The Special Commitment Center’s discharge team was commended during the Inspection of Care team visit for how quickly team members established their program.

An Inspection of Care team visit to the Special Commitment Center Oct. 4–8 resulted in a report highlighting improvements in morale and in the high acuity programming, in addition to praise for the center’s newly formed discharge program.

“You have the potential to be the model of what discharge planning for sexually violent predators in the country looks like,” the team of experts told SCC leaders, according to the SCC’s director of discharge planning, Jonathan Sherry.

Each year, the SCC is required by Washington law to be reviewed by an IOC team to ensure the facility is providing quality treatment to the residents who are civilly committed. Due to the SCC’s new mission of discharge planning for its residents (a function previously handled by defense attorneys), SCC leadership asked the IOC team to also review the center’s new program.

“I’m incredibly proud of our staff here at SCC for all of their incredibly hard work, for their dedication in being innovative to create the best treatment and services for our residents, and for their energy and willingness to move our program forward. It’s gratifying to know that the IOC team gave well-deserved recognition to our staff,” said Keith Devos, SCC’s chief executive officer.

The SCC became funded for its discharge planning team on July 1, and in three months it filled 70–80% of those positions, said Sherry. The discharge team also received recognition for quickly developing a psychological/social intake form and a 90-day transition plan. The team’s social workers worked on transition plans for residents who pre-dated the program, and are developing life skills classes for residents both in confinement and in the community. In addition, they hired a workforce development manager to look at how to help residents in the community gain employment. Sherry called this “an actual rehabilitative model to help people who have long stints of incarceration and institutionalization to actually become reintegrated members of the community.”

Dr. Zainab Ghazal, SCC’s chief of transitions and program accountability, praised the discharge team members for their expertise and their enthusiasm for their work.

“Not only are they good at what they do, they’re good with each other; the team just came together… it’s like this symphony of people working together. It’s amazing to work. I’m proud of them,” she said.

The IOC report also noted progress in SCC’s high acuity programming, and the efforts by staff to help residents with higher needs prepare for successful discharges to the community, when appropriate.

“Right now, we’re also putting treatment and programming in place at the Pierce County Secure Community Transition Facility for residents who are high acuity, so that their discharge plans have those safeguards in place to really help them have a step down from total confinement,” said Dave Flynn, the former SCC CEO. (He spoke on the IOC results before transitioning to a new position on Nov. 1 with the Department of Corrections.) The facility’s high acuity program provides specialized services to residents with intellectual disabilities.

Another area that the inspection team highlighted was an improvement in staff morale, which also increased retention, according to Flynn.

He gave credit to staff members for progress they made during the pandemic, and for putting SCC on the verge of being the model for other programs to follow.

“It feels good to know that the programs are on track to be a leading civil commitment program in the country,” said Flynn.

Editor’s note: On Dec. 1, Dr. Ghazal transitioned to a new position at the Department of Corrections; SCC’s new chief of transition and program accountability is Candice Yi.

(By Suzie Ovel)

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