Inmate: I can only confess to God

Sexual offender claims therapy program’s requirement goes against religious beliefs

A requirement that sexual offenders “confess” to their crimes as part of an ongoing therapy program at the State Correctional Institution at Houtzdale has been upheld by U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson in Johnstown.

Gibson approved a recent recommendation by Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan of Pittsburgh in which she concluded that the requirement trumped an argument by inmate Curry Robinson, 43, who contended that he was barred from the state’s sexual offender therapy program because of his firmly held religious belief that “the Bible does not permit him to confess his sins to anybody but God.”

He contended in a 2016 lawsuit that the confession requirement places a substantial burden on his ability to practice his religious beliefs and therefore violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

When the case initially was filed and referred to Lenihan for a report and recommendation, she wrote an opinion stating that dismissal was warranted. She questioned the “truth” of Robinson’s belief.

After Gibson approved Lenihan’s initial recommendation, the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia sent the case back for further action.

The 3rd Circuit’s three-judge panel stated that, at such an early stage of the proceedings, the truth of Robinson’s beliefs must be accepted.

The judges held that, on its face, Robinson was being forced to choose between his religion or participation in the therapy program, which is required before a sexual offender can be placed on parole.

In her recent review of the case, Lenihan concluded that, despite Robinson’s religious beliefs, the therapy requirement must assume precedence because it is an important and necessary part of the state’s “compelling interest in rehabilitation of sex offenders.”

That “compelling interest,” she stated, has been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court stated in a 2002 decision that accepting responsibility for prior offenses was a critical first step in sex offender treatment.

She quoted from the Supreme Court decision, “research indicates that offenders who deny all allegations of sexual abuse are three times more likely to fail in treatment than those who admit even partial complicity.”

Robinson is serving a 7.5- to 15-year sentence for rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and indecent assault. He is to serve five years’ probation after his release from incarceration.

Lenihan discussed the sexual offender program at Houtzdale, stating that it was designed by Johnathan Errigo, a psychological services specialist and coordinator of the program.

The program encourages an inmate to “own up” to his past, which, she explained, is a “fundamental aspect of the program.”

Taking responsibility, the magistrate judge explained, helps the participants “understand the circumstances which led to their offending and recognize triggers so that they can avoid reoffending in the future.”

In her opinion, she stated that Robinson maintains that introspection and internal acknowledgment voids the need for confession.

Lenihan responded, “His argument is flawed … because it does not address the evidence provided by (state officials) that the critical aspect of the program is the communication about prior offenses to others that furthers the state’s compelling interest in rehabilitation of sex offenders.”

Gibson adopted Lenihan’s opinion as that of the court’s, but ruled that Robinson has until Oct. 20 to decide if he wants to once again appeal the dismissal of his civil lawsuit to the 3rd Circuit.

Robinson, according to the federal court record from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, challenged his convictions for sexual abuse of four children that allegedly occurred between 1996 and 2002 in the Philadelphia area.

A federal review of his case was dismissed on July 10 by U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Savage with a refusal by the judge to issue a certificate of appealability.