States Grapple With Sex Offenders Imprisoned Beyond Their Sentences


More than 700 Minnesota sex offenders who have already completed their sentences are being imprisoned indefinitely under a policy known as civil commitment, having been deemed “sexually dangerous” or “sexual psychopathic personalities” by courts. The the authorities say is to provide treatment to the most dangerous sex offenders until it is safe for the public for them to go home. None of the 700 in Minnesota actually has gone home, says the New York Times. Minnesota's civil commitment program, which detains more people per capita than any other state, faces an overhaul. A federal judge has found it unconstitutional, calling it “a punitive system that segregates and indefinitely detains a class of potentially dangerous individuals without the safeguards of the criminal justice system.” Judge Donovan Frank in St. Paul, is expected to order changes to the program as soon as this week.

A federal judge in Missouri has found that state's program violated people's right to due process, potentially imposing “lifetime detention on individuals who have completed their prison sentences and who no longer pose a danger to the public, no matter how heinous their past conduct.” In Texas, which had a unique outpatient method for treating sex offenders civilly committed after their prison sentences, the legislature this year revamped the program after the Houston Chronicle found that none of the hundreds committed had ever graduated. The newspaper found that nearly half of the men detained for treatment while living in halfway houses and other facilities were actually sent back to prison for breaking the program's rules. “My sense was that we had to make changes or a federal court is going to strike down the whole program, and we need this program — some of these people would scare the hell out of you,” said State Sen. John Whitmire, who helped push through the overhaul. Twenty states and the federal government, detain some sex criminals for treatment beyond their prison time.

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