The Virginia program for long-term containment of sex offenders is facing a $26 million budget shortfall over the next two years because the types of crimes that qualify offenders for the civil commitment program have increased sevenfold.

Appropriations for the program have grown from $2.7 million in 2004 to $17.3 million in the last fiscal year.

But the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, which runs the program, expects needing $24 million next year, about $9 million more than budgeted. And officials say they'll need $32 million the following year, more than twice the budgeted amount.

In the program, inmates convicted of certain sexual crimes are evaluated before they are to be released from prison. If the attorney general's office moves to have an offender placed in civil commitment, a court determines whether the person should be committed for treatment, put on conditional release or released with no requirements.

There are now 212 residents committed for treatment at the 300-bed Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation. The center is projected to be full by early 2012, said Meghan McGuire, a department spokeswoman. Only seven residents have been released.

Civil commitment is a costly but "foolproof" response to people deemed sexually dangerous predators, said W. Lawrence Fitch, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law.

But most people who are committed stay indefinitely, because there aren't good treatment methods for personality and sexual disorders, Fitch said.

"People come in, but not many leave because people are loath to take the risk," he said. "This is a budget item that gets bigger every year."

The cause of the growth in Virginia is a 2006 expansion of the number of crimes that qualified offenders for civil commitment.

Initially, only offenders of four crimes -- rape, forcible sodomy, object sexual penetration and aggravated sexual battery -- qualified. Now, that list has expanded to 28 crimes.

That's led to a 350 percent increase in the number of eligible offenders, McGuire said.

It costs about $91,000 per year to treat a resident in civil confinement and $21,000 to monitor a conditionally released offender. Forty-nine people have been placed on conditional release since the program began.