The New Yorker explores federal imprisonment of sex offenders past their release dates under the 2006 Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which allows the federal Bureau of Prisons to keep inmates in prison if it appears that they'll have “serious difficulty in refraining from sexually violent conduct or child molestation if released.” By 2007, roughly forty-five hundred sex offenders had been civilly committed nationwide, and just over ten per cent had been released.
The government has lost about half of the more than sixty Adam Walsh cases that have gone to trial so far. Confirming the facts of sexual abuse, the most intimate sort of crime, has always been difficult, with many victims keeping quiet about their abuse or not having their stories believed. For offenders, too, the heightened emotional stakes may complicate attempts to get at the truth. The New Yorker focuses on one case in detail to explore the question, “Is it right to imprison people for heinous crimes they have not yet committed?”