Civil Commitment of Sex Offenders

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Sexual violence in the United Stated has become a significant problem over the past decade. Besides being a health problem for the individual, it is a crime that every State punishes in accordance to their laws. In an effort to decrease the incidents of sexual assault, many states and legislators have passed laws geared towards reducing recidivism among convicted sex offenders. As a result, sex offenders living in the United States are subject to different laws, including sex offender registration, community notification, monitoring via a global positioning system (GPS), and loitering and internet restrictions. In addition to these boundaries, sex offenders are subject to civil commitment under the Sexually Violent Predator Laws. Civil commitment among sex offenders is a very controversial issue within the Criminal Justice System, as many argue its ineffectiveness and the violation of the individual’s civil rights. The following paper will discuss civil commitment of sexual offenders, including the costs versus the benefits, issues presented by civil commitment programs, safety it brings to society and strategies that could be implemented for these programs to work better. In addition, this paper begins discussing what civil commitment is, which States currently implement these practices, and relevant cases pertaining to civil commitment programs and Sexually Violent Predator Laws. Civil commitment of sexual offenders is a program implemented under the Sexually Violent Predator Laws. Civil commitment of sexual offenders holds that upon release from prison a sexual offender, based on the likelihood of they reoffend, are hold upon release, and instead of going back to the community, are sent to hospitals or special institutionalized “homes” where they can continue to receive treatment for their condition. As of April of 2008, there are 20 States that implement civil commitment laws, these States are Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin (Deming, 2008). The courts have reviewed different cases to investigate the constitutionality behind civil commitment programs. One of the first cases to be reviewed by the courts was Allen vs. Illinois (1986). In this case, Allen was charged with committing crimes of unlawful restraint and deviant sexual assault (Find Law, n.d.). The state filed a petition to have him declared a sexually dangerous person within the meaning of the Illinois Sexually Dangerous Persons Act. The question that raised controversy in this case was whether the proceedings under the Illinois Sexually Dangerous Persons Act were "criminal" within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment's against compulsory self-incrimination (Find Law, n.d.). In order for the court to decide whether the statute was criminal or not, they decided to evaluate the purpose and the effect of the act and see if these where considered punishable. While reaching a decision, the court ordered for the act to give concise information on whether “the State serves its purpose of treating rather than punishing sexually dangerous persons by committing them to an institution expressly designed to provide psychiatric care and treatment” (Smith, 2008, par. 17). Another notable case was Kansa vs. Hendricks (1997). Like the previously mentioned case, the court addressed the constitutionality of Kansas’ Sexually Violent Predator Act which “established procedures for the civil commitment of individuals who had a “mental abnormality” or a “personality disorder” that caused them to engage in “predatory acts of sexual violence” (Smith, 2008, par. 21). The Kansas Supreme Court was concerned that such act violated the due process of individuals because it did not require for the individual to suffer from a mental illness...
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