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

Focusing on sex offenders

2-2-2010 North Carolina:

CHAPEL HILL — The term "deviant sex offenders" might seem redundant. How could anyone who commits a sexual offense be anything but deviant?

In reaction to such sentiments, there has been a federal attempt since 2006 to create a policy that allows federal officials to civilly commit offenders deemed too sexually dangerous to release even

after they have served their federal prison terms. The feds' push for civil commitment authority was challenged and is now being weighed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

At least 20 states already have civil commitment laws in place, and although no such law exists in North Carolina there has been interest in one. The high court's ruling could potentially force our state to accept and commit sex offenders from federal prisons, a costly expense that according to different studies could range anywhere from $60,000 to nearly $139,000 per inmate each year.

If the court does not uphold this ruling, North Carolina could still pass its own state civil commitment law, following in the footsteps of states that already have such laws in place but have not produced evidence that there has been a drop in the rate of sex crimes as a result of such policies.

Recent research has now questioned the efficacy of policies designed to identify and intensely monitor sex offenders. In a 2008 study from New York State's Department of Corrections, rates of sex crimes were compared for the 10 years prior to the passage of Megan's law (sex offender registry) to the 10 years after the registry was put into effect. This study found that even after the passage of the registration law, there was no change in the rate of sex crimes because more than 96 percent of all sexual crimes are committed by first-time offenders.

In other words, the law had no effect on reducing the number of sexual assaults because less than 4 percent of these crimes were committed by repeat offenders. So although state and federal governments have spent billions of dollars to contain and monitor offenders in the community, these efforts have not reduced the number of victims who have suffered through the experience of a sexual assault, as they do not capture the range of individuals at risk of committing a sex crime.

Victims of sexual assault deserve better laws that will effectively protect them and others from similar experiences.

Unfortunately, somewhat lost in the current debate and lawsuit is the effort to classify those with a mental illness as a higher risk for committing a crime. Currently, federal authorities identify individuals according to those who have "been found to have a mental illness or abnormality that makes them likely to strike again if they are released."

But mental illness is a term used to describe a wide variety of mental conditions, and while there is some evidence that people with particular disorders are more likely to be aggressive, including sexually aggressive, this category is ill-defined in the current law and could be interpreted differently by individual therapists.

At most, it is estimated that clinicians can predict with 10 percent accuracy the risk level of an individual sex offender striking again. For those already working with individuals who struggle with the stigma of mental illness, there will now be added consequences and a new battle to fight: the message that all those who are mentally ill are also dangerous sexual predators.

In addition to increasing survivor services, our state and the federal government would be better served to focus resources on:

Evaluating the effectiveness of civil commitment laws to see if they reduce the rate of sexual crimes

Understanding the factors that lead an individual to commit such a crime

Evaluating effective treatment programs

Those who work within the field of sexual violence are eager to prevent such violence from occurring. The U.S. Supreme Court and North Carolina would be more effective in their efforts if they first identified the causes of these crimes and then identified policies and programs that effectively reduce them. Currently, efforts are under way that would center the focus only on a few individuals, leaving the vast majority of sex crimes unaddressed.

The victims of sexual violence deserve better, including government policies that work, rather than a false sense of hope that the victims and others are safer. ..Source.. by Melissa D. Grady who teaches at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work.

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