It is important to note that any form of justice system needs to undertake measures in both identifying perpetrators and imposing not only fair consequences in the form of punishment but also ensure that the negative or dangerous behavior never takes place again. Sexually violent predators can be categorized as among the most hated members of society, which is why appropriate measures need to be taken in order to either correct them or prevent them from acting on their own twisted desires. In the United States, civil commitment is used for sexually violent predators in several states, but it is not evident whether or not such approaches are effective and useful. The findings from the assessment and analysis of civil commitment of sexually violent predators are indicative of the fact that it is a plausible measure, but there is a major potential for improvement through better tracking, and all parties involved can benefit from the outcome.
Overview of Civil Commitment
In order to properly provide arguments for the civil commitment as a measure against sexually violent predators and offenders, it is important to understand the background and development of the given process. For a certain category of persons who have committed sexual offenses and are recognized as sexually dangerous and incorrigible criminals, there is a special procedure of public supervision and civil commitment. A sexually dangerous person is a person who suffers from serious mental illness, anomalies, or disorders, as a result of which a person experiences insurmountable difficulties in abstaining from aggressive sexual behavior or deviant sexual behavior towards children (Winters & Jeglic, 2017).
Such a procedure consists in the fact that the Attorney General has the right to allocate grants to government authorities in the states, which undertake to develop and implement programs for sexually dangerous persons (Winters & Jeglic, 2017). To receive a grant, the state must develop and submit to the Attorney General a specific implementation plan for the program. The program should include ongoing public oversight of controlled individuals through secure civil confinement by state and public authorities, providing treatment and care for such individuals.
An interesting feature of the analyzed procedure is that public supervision and these programs are carried out in relation to persons who have already been convicted of a sexual offense and are serving a sentence or have not served a sentence, but in relation to whom compulsory medical measures were applied, or criminal prosecution against which are discontinued due to mental illness (Winters & Jeglic, 2017). The procedure for declaring a person sexually dangerous is done by the Attorney General, a person authorized by the Attorney General, or the administration of the correctional institution, initiates a petition before the court at the place of detention to declare the person a sexually dangerous and incorrigible offender (Winters & Jeglic, 2017). The petition is resolved in a court session with the obligatory participation of this person, a defense attorney, and a representative of the internship. Before the court session, the court has the right to appoint a psychiatric or psychological examination of the defendant, the conclusion of which is announced at the session.
If in the course of the process, the court recognizes a person as sexually dangerous, then such a person is transferred to the disposal of the Attorney General. The attorney general must make every effort to ensure that the state where a person is convicted and is serving a sentence, or the state where he resides, takes full responsibility for the maintenance, supervision, and treatment of such a person, and in this case transfers the sexually dangerous person to a specific commissioner state official (Winters & Jeglic, 2017). If no state accepts such responsibility, the Attorney General must place the person in a suitable facility in the United States for subsequent containment and treatment before any state assumes responsibility for the maintenance, supervision, and treatment of that person.
A comprehensive analysis of this problem has shown that persons who commit sex crimes against children establish contact with future victims through their relationships with other people, most often through adults. The researchers also refer to the methods of getting to know children and establishing trusting relationships with them as establishing acquaintance with employed nannies, living in the house of acquaintances, and friends with minor children (Winters & Jeglic, 2017). Another significant problem of the effectiveness of normative acts in the field of registration of persons who have committed sexual crimes against minors, the creation of registers of such persons and notifying the public, is the high level of latency of such crimes. Most sexual crimes, especially against minors, are latent and, therefore, they are not prosecuted.
The main issue with civil commitment assessments and evaluations in regards to their effectiveness and usefulness is the fact that there is a shortage of data available upon which objective and precise assessment could be made. It is stated that “civil commitment is practiced across the United States, but basic statistics about these policies, such as the number of involuntary psychiatric hospitalizations each year, remain unknown to much of the public” (Morris, 2020, p. 741). Therefore, the is a lack of access for research to basic data and statistical elements, which could be used for detailed and thorough analyses, which is why there is only limited information on whether or not civil commitment is effective as a measure against violent sex offenders. The main reasons for data unavailability are due to a number of key factors, “such as patient privacy concerns, decentralized systems of mental health care, and variable commitment criteria,” which “complicate public tracking of civil commitment” (Morris, 2020, p. 741). In other words, these barriers for proper assessments and evaluations are also protective for the directly involved individuals, which also includes sex offenders.
Advantages of Civil Commitment
The practice of civil commitment, in general, can be categorized as a measure, which can significantly benefit a person who exhibits a dangerous behavior towards himself or herself and to others. It is stated that civil commitment is “associated with reduced mortality-risk, increased access to acute medical care, and reduced violence and victimization risks” (Segal, 2020, p. 1). In other words, there is evidence that there is a set of certain advantageous benefits for both the offender and surrounding individuals since civil commitment can substantially reduce the general risk of violence. Thus, civil commitment can be described as a positive measure with a clear beneficial outcome for all parties involved.
However, evidence also reveals that the current civil commitment system and its variations across the states are not utilized to its fullest potential and capacity, which is why there is doubt in regards to the general effectiveness of the approach. It is stated that in the majority of states where civil commitment is used, the tracking and monitoring process is highly limited, which is why “public tracking of civil commitment is necessary to monitor and to optimize use of these policies” (Morris, 2020, p. 741). In other words, the overall monitoring procedures are poorly optimized to be effective at tracking the persons of interest, which is hindering and decreasing the effectiveness of a civil commitment. With these necessary improvements and system enhancements, one can easily observe a major boost in civil commitments performance, which might be especially prominent in regards to violent sex offenders, who, arguably, require the tracking the most.
Behavioral Improvements Among Sex Offenders
Although it is easy to focus solely on the element of punishment and ramifications in the justice system practice, one should also be noted that the consequences need also reduce or eliminate any chance for further violations and offenses. Therefore, violent sex offenders need not only be imposed punishments through civil commitment but also should be given an opportunity to undergo a proper and permanent correctional procedure, where future sex-related offenses will no longer take place under any circumstances. Research conducted on sexually violent people states that “soliciting patient feedback periodically could be important for maintaining treatment engagement and discovering opportunities to enhance patient satisfaction to treatment in a SVP civil commitment setting” (Vincent, Kahn, Ambroziak, Smith, & Jardas, 2021., 2021).
In other words, it is of paramount importance to ensure that sex offenders adhere to the treatment procedures they are assigned to in order to provide a properly developed correctional measure, which reduces or eliminates a chance for future offenses. However, one cannot achieve a full degree of adherence and cooperation without the patient satisfaction element, which is why civil commitment can provide its biggest benefit in this regard.
The evidence presented and analysis conducted reveal that the limited data points towards civil commitment measures being effective at reducing violent behaviors and treatment satisfaction as well as adherence among sexually violent predators. In other words, despite the unavailability of wide-scale information, the findings were able to show the benefits of civil commitment in comparison with alternative options. In addition, it should be noted that the current civil commitment utilization is not fully optimized, which means it is not operating at its maximum capacity in terms of effectiveness. There are potential improvements to be made in regards to its monitoring and tracking, which is why it is of paramount importance to prioritize civil commitment as a strategic framework for sexually violent predators in order not only to impose consequential punishments but also reduce and even eliminate the possible risks of future offenses.
The natural desire of society for security, the desire to separate oneself from the potential threat emanating from persons who previously served criminal sentences, developing against the background of a clear distrust of the ability of the penitentiary system to correct the criminal, will determine the strengthening of the social component in control. It seems that this is why special registration will largely determine the further development of post-penitentiary control in all states of the country. Despite the recognition by the courts of the constitutionality of the norms of the Megan Law, disputes about the law’s invasion of the privacy of persons who have served their sentences do not subside. A number of publications assess the negative impact of public dishonor on the social and psychological rehabilitation and resocialization of persons included in the register, on their employment, study, family relations, and other factors. At the same time, the assessment of the effectiveness of a special registration or civil commitment is generally positive.
In conclusion, the current research and literature clearly outline the main problems for conducting an objective assessment of civil commitment as a legal practice. Firstly, there is limited data on which one could perform a wide range of evaluations and assessments, which means that the potential benefits and drawbacks of civil commitment are not as evident. Secondly, there is a large room for improvement for civil commitment as a ramification and correctional measure since findings are indicative of the fact that the current public tracking and monitoring aspects of civil commitment are not fully optimized, which greatly hinders its effectiveness. Thirdly, a small number of evidence that one can have access to shows that there are already major benefits of civil commitment, which are indicated by the increased patient satisfaction and violent behavioral risk reduction. Ensuring that sex offenders comply with the prescribed treatment and correctional measures enables an increased degree of adherence and cooperation, which allow for the process to be more productive and have a long-term effect, whereas the lack of cooperativeness will only make it likely that future sex offenses will take place. In addition, civil commitment directly reduces a sex offender’s violent behavioral risks, which means it has a strong implication under the correctional framework.
Morris, N. P. (2020). Detention without data: Public tracking of civil commitment. Psychiatric Services, 71(7), 741-744. Web.
Segal, S. P. (2020). The utility of outpatient civil commitment: Investigating the evidence. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 70, 1-24. Web.
Vincent, S., Kahn, R. E., Ambroziak, G., Smith, J., & Jardas, E. (2021). Treatment satisfaction in a civil commitment facility for sexually violent persons. Sexual Abuse, 1, 1-7. Web.
Winters, G. M., & Jeglic, E. L (2017). Sex offender civil commitment. Oxfordshire, England: Routledge.