State and federal civil commitment continues to unravel
Piggy-backing off of USA Today's recent expose, Prison Legal News takes an in-depth look at the status of the federal sex offender civil commitment process. As I’ve reported here on various occasions, federal judges in North Carolina are being thoughtful in their application of the “Sexually Dangerous Person” law (18 USC 4248). Rather than simply rubber-stamping government reports as truth, the judges “have shown a willingness to carefully sift through the facts” and the relevant law in each individual case.
Increasingly, federal judges are agreeing with the findings of private psychologists and defense experts in civil commitment cases, which has put the DOJ in the unusual position of losing more contested hearings than it wins. Courts have repeatedly found that the federal government failed to meet its burden of proof that prisoners certified for civil commitment are sexually dangerous or have a high risk of reoffending, as required by 4248.Gratifying for independent forensic professionals is the fact that judges are finding outside psychologists more objective and reliable than psychologists on the payroll of the Board of Prison Terms, whose reports are “sometimes questionable.” Notes PLN reporter Derek Gilna, the judges are “consistently realizing that independent psychologists are “more objective, thorough and nuanced in their observations and findings.”
Despite its string of losses, the federal government is still holding ex-convicts for years after they complete their prison terms, pending civil commitment hearings. That’s “a chilling reminder of the power of the DOJ to arbitrarily deprive prisoners of their freedom,” writes Gilna.
Challenge to Minnesota commitment gains ground
Meanwhile, another federal judge has issued a court order mandating changes in the civil commitment system in Minnesota, after detainees brought a class action challenge. That state’s civil detention program is infamous around the world for its failure to release inmate “patients” even after years of sex offender treatment; it was on that basis that Britain recently rejected a U.S. bid to extradite an accused child molester.
Reports the Star Tribune:
|Moose Lake detention facility|
Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan [has] ordered state Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson to convene a task force of experts to recommend options less restrictive than the state's prison-like treatment centers and to suggest changes in how offenders are selected for civil commitment, as well as how they might earn release from the program. The order came during pretrial discussions in a class-action lawsuit brought by patients who argued that their indefinite detention after completing their prison sentences is unconstitutional. Critics of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) hailed Boylan's order as an unprecedented and significant step toward changing a system that has been a magnet for controversy since its creation in 1994 with the construction in Moose Lake of a sprawling campus surrounded by razor wire.The 63-page class action complaint can be found HERE.
New book: The Myth of Sex Addiction
I’ve been meaning to blog about this topic; I’ve got a half-finished post stashed away somewhere. But now I don’t have to: David Ley has written a whole book about it (proving that sometimes procrastination pays off).
In The Myth of Sex Addiction, Ley presents the cultural history, moral judgments and junk science underlying this disorder that has recently arisen in the public’s imagination. As described in the book’s summary:
He exposes the subjective values embedded in the concept, as well as the significant economic factors that drive the label of sex addiction in clinical practice and the popular media. Ley outlines how this label represents a social attack on many forms of sexuality--male sexuality in particular--as well as presenting the difficulty this label creates in holding people responsible for their sexual behaviors. Going against current assumptions and trends, Ley debunks the idea that sex addiction is real. Instead, he suggests that the high-sex behaviors of some men is something that has been tacitly condoned for countless years and is only now labeled as a disorder as men are being held accountable to the same rules that have been applied to women. He suggests we should expect men to take responsibility for sexual choices, rather than supporting an approach that labels male sexual desire as a "demonic force" that must be resisted, feared, treated, and exorcised.In a review in the online newsletter of the influential Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA), David Prescott calls the book indispensable for individuals engaged in the assessment and/or treatment of sex offenders, because "our clients typically do not have the luxury of selecting a treatment provider and can quickly find themselves in legally tenuous situations should they hold different beliefs than their therapist."
Study: Sexting not risky or psychologically problematic
Here’s another myth-buster: Sexting is not associated with sexually risky behavior or other problems.
That's according to a study published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health. More than four out of ten youngsters in a large U.S. sample of 3,447 had engaged in sexting, the researchers found. There was no association between sexting and either psychological well-being or engagement in sexual risk behaviors. The study flies in the face of alarmist hype over this increasingly ubiquitous phenomenon of the electronic age.
Sex offender recidivism through a therapeutic jurisprudence lens
Legal scholars Michael Perlin and Heather Cucolo of New York Law School have turned their focus to the effects of sex offender laws on rehabilitation and community reintegration. Their new article, published in the fall issue of the Temple Political and Civil Rights Law and also available online, suggests public policy changes that would minimize re-offense rates while still protecting human rights. As summarized in the abstract:
[The article] highlights the failure of community containment laws and ordinances by focusing on (1) the myths/perceptions that have arisen about sex offenders, and how society incorporates those myths into legislation, (2) the lack of rehabilitation offered to incarcerated or civilly committed offenders, resulting in inadequate re-entry preparation, (3) the anti-therapeutic and inhumane effect of the laws and ordinances created to restrict sex offenders in the community, and (4) the reluctance and resistance of courts to incorporate therapeutic jurisprudence in seeking to remediate this set of circumstances. It concludes by offering some modest suggestions, based on the adoption of a therapeutic jurisprudence model of analysis.The only odd thing about the article is that its title is not derived from Bob Dylan lyrics, as Perlin's articles usually are. That must have been the influence of his co-author.
Alarmist study amps up sex offender fears
At the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, here's yet another piece of alarmist reporting:
"Nearly one in six convicted sex offenders is using sophisticated techniques invented by identity thieves" in order to escape registration requirements, blurts a news story that received quite a bit of press a bit ago.
My first reaction: ONLY one-sixth? After all, how many of us would want to wear a scarlet letter everywhere we went, a letter that effectively banished us from housing, jobs, school, community -- basically, from any kind of normal life.
Don Rebovich, the lead researcher in this study, who heads the ominously named Center for Identity Management and Information Protection (CIMIP) at Utica College, hyped former sex offenders' attempts to navigate around registration laws as "a growing societal problem."
"We have to dig deeper to find out why this is happening," he said.
Really?! If he cannot figure it out without further digging, he must not know how to walk in another's shoes. We’re talking about onerous laws that severely restrict where ex-offenders can live and require them to broadcast the addresses of any employment or school they attend. Laws that incite the prurient interests of nosy neighbors. Laws that invade the privacy of loved ones. Laws that have even led to a string of vigilante murders. People on these registries are motivated by the desire to protect family members, shield themselves from nosy neighbors, and get jobs.
Even the New York Daily News, certainly no sympathizer toward ex-offenders, notes in its coverage of the study that the various attempts to evade scrutiny "don't mean the offenders aren't checking in regularly with their parole officers. Actual absconder rates -- the percentage of sex offenders who get released and disappear -- are extremely low."
Ironically, as highlighted in the Perlin and Cucolo article referenced above, a growing body of empirical research suggests that registration laws do nothing to protect the public or reduce recidivism. Indeed, they may foster recidivism, by isolating former sex offenders and destroying all hope of leading productive, law-abiding lives.
|Frank Kuni, New Jersey sexual registry entry|
Frank Kuni of New Jersey did not commit a new sex crime. Rather, he changed his name in order to land a job. With the US Census Service, no less. In other words, as one article put it, he had the audacity to try to "slip back into society" and become a productive citizen.
I recommend the Prison Legal News article, Federal Sex Offender Civil Commitment Process Under Fire, for those interested in an in-depth report on recent federal decisions. Prison Legal News has lots of other cutting-edge news coverage, as well; I recommend browsing the site and signing up if you find the information useful. There is a free email alert option.
My blog list of online sexting resources can be found HERE.
Preventing Sex-Offender Recidivism Through Therapeutic Jurisprudence Approaches and Specialized Community Integration by Heather Cucolo and Michael L. Perlin can be freely downloaded from the Social Science Research Network site.
My 2007 blog post on sex offender banishment, Exiles in their own land: Sex offenders and the history of banishment in Western culture, is HERE.
Hat tips: Bruce, Sandi, Ken Pope