The federal government may not keep sexual predators locked up beyond their scheduled release dates, says a federal judge’s ruling reported by the Raleigh News & Observer. Senior U.S. District Judge W. Earl Britt declared unconstitutional part of a federal law approved with much fanfare last year. The decision stops the government’s attempt to keep five “sexually dangerous” men away from the public through “civil commitment,” which allows a person to be held past his incarceration with the intention of rehabilitation. “The court concludes that civil commitment of sexually dangerous persons  is not a necessary and proper extension of Congress’ power,” Britt wrote.
Supporters say civil commitment ensures that extremely dangerous sexual predators won’t be able to attack again. Critics question the government’s right to keep a person imprisoned indefinitely on the suspicion he might commit a crime. Most violent sex offenses are handled at the state level; 20 states hold sexual predators indefinitely or until they’re no longer considered dangerous. Under the federal civil commitment plan, no inmates have been committed, but at least 57 face the possibility. Britt’s ruling directly affects five men housed at the federal corrections complex in Butner, 35 miles north of Raleigh and the planned home of the civil commitment program.