Currently over five thousand individuals are indefinitely confined in the United States with little hope of release. The 1990s brought a wave of sex offender policy reform, creating Sexually Violent Predator Acts that allowed certain sex offenders to be detained after the completion of a sentence. Legislatures reason that some offenders have mental defects that cause them to lose the ability to control their violent behaviors, and until that mental defect is resolved they pose too great of a risk to live in the community. However, without precise definitions of mental defects or effective treatment options, these offenders are facing the probability of life-long commitment. Until researchers discover sex offender treatment methods that can provide them with a realistic chance of release, the government should limit sex offender civil commitments to those persons who have serious mental illnesses and not merely “mental abnormalities,” in addition to specified offenses that further the goal of the statutes. Given that there are extensive and effective safeguards in place for sex offenders living in the community, confining these offenders is not always necessary to protect the public. If the states narrowed the scope of who could be adjudicated a sexually violent predator there would be fewer civil commitments, and therefore a better balance between the state’s interest in protecting the public and the offender’s interest in retaining liberty.
Anne R. Izzi, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW—THE CAGE A FETISH CAN BUILD: PROPOSED LEGISLATIVE REFORM FOR CIVIL COMMITMENT PROCEDURES IN SEXUALLY VIOLENT PREDATOR LAWS, 39 W. New Eng. L. Rev. 141 (2017), https://digitalcommons.law.wne.edu/lawreview/vol39/iss1/5