We now have added "Informational Posts" which are tidbits of information that may come in handy at some point.

Civil Commitment of Sexually Dangerous Persons

July 2007:

The 109th Congress passed legislation (P.L. 109-248) that allows the federal government to civilly commit “sexually dangerous persons.” Civil commitment, as it relates to sex offenders, is when a state retains custody of an individual, found by a judge or jury to be a “sexually dangerous person,” by involuntarily committing the person to a secure mental health facility after the offender’s prison sentence is done. In 1990, the state of Washington passed the first civil commitment law for sexually dangerous persons. Currently, 18 other states and the federal government have similar laws. Moreover, the Supreme Court, in Kansas v. Hendricks and Kansas v. Crane, ruled that current civil commitment laws are constitutional.

The civil commitment of sex offenders centers on the belief that sex offenders are more likely than other offenders to re-offend. However, data on sex offender recidivism is varied. Data show that the recidivism risk for sex offenders may be lower than it is typically thought to be; in fact, some studies show that sex offenders recidivate at a lower rate than many other criminals. Other studies show that, given time, almost all sex offenders will commit a new sex crime. Most discussions about recidivism examine ways to decrease recidivism; for example, by providing sex offenders with treatment. Research on the efficacy of sex offender treatment is promising, but it cannot prove that treatment reduces recidivism. Cognitivebehavioral techniques appear to be the most promising type of treatment for sex offenders, although some research indicates that offenders who receive a diagnosis of psychopathy may be less amenable to treatment.

For civil commitment to be effective, practitioners must be able to identify sex offenders who pose a high risk of re-offending. Although the ability of practitioners to identify offenders has improved, there is still the possibility that an offender who would not re-offend might be committed. Moreover, determining when it is safe to release a sex offender from custody is still difficult for practitioners. Such concerns have raised questions about alternatives to civil commitment. One potential alternative is the use of less restrictive measures, such as intensive community supervision. Another alternative is the use of indeterminate sentences for sex offenders. The cost of civil commitment programs has fueled debate about other viable means for managing dangerous sex offenders. Data show that civil commitment programs are expensive when compared with traditional incarceration or community supervision. The cost of civil commitment programs is expected to grow as more offenders are committed.

An issue for Congress is whether civil commitment is a sustainable policy for dealing with sexually dangerous persons, or whether there is a different way to manage this population effectively. The issue of civil commitment raises a series of concomitant questions: How much do civil commitment programs cost? How dangerous are sex offenders? Is sex offender treatment effective? Can sexually dangerous persons be defined and identified? Are there less restrictive alternatives for managing sex offenders? ..Source..

by: Nathan James, Analyst in Social Policy, Domestic Social Policy Division -AND- Kenneth R. Thomas, Legislative Attorney, American Law Division -AND- Cassandra Foley, Law Librarian, Knowledge Services Group

This report has an excellent section on recidivism and explains problems with such studies. eAdvocate

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