Coalinga Mental Hospital in California houses more than 500 of the most disturbed criminals in America – convicted paedophiles. Most have already served lengthy prison sentences but have been deemed unsafe for release. Instead they have been sent here for an indefinite time. They have only two choices: accept the fact they will never live as free men in society again, or submit to a programme of rehabilitation and therapy run by the hospital’s psychologists.
Louis has gained access to Coalinga to film with patients and therapists, and to consider whether these men – whose history of sexual violence is often long and ingrained – could ever be sufficiently changed by therapy to justify their release.
Spending time with those undergoing treatment, Louis wrestles with whether he can ever allow himself to believe men whose whole history is defined by deception and deceit. At times, the honesty of the patients appears disarming and sincere. At others, the language of therapy seems more to mask their true natures than to reveal them.
Among the patients is James. After six years of therapy and a physical castration, he appears to have come to understand the enormity of the crimes he committed. He is determined to prove to society that he can be trusted again, and has been recommended for release by the hospital.
Over the course of Louis’s visit, he discovers that, of the hundreds of men the hospital has accommodated, only 13 have ever completed the therapy programme. Most refuse even to participate, and many – fiercely deluded about their crimes – talk bitterly about the programme, arguing that the facilities it offers (therapy, tennis, softball and music) are designed less with the intention of rehabilitation than of the long–term incarceration of men who have already served their time.
Louis explores the dark world of Coalinga, and finds an institution committed to helping and treating people but also a place that ultimately offers society a way of confining its most loathed offenders for the rest of their days.