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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: February 6, 2006
Latest Update: February 6, 2006

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Index of Topics on Site Civil Commitment of Sex Offenders: What Does It Really Mean?

The issue of what we do to teach inmates was brought up on transform_dom by Amy yesterday. This morning I opened my New York Times to discover Jennifer Medina's article, "Albany Weighs Confinement of Sex Offenders After Prison Term," on P.A 23. Backup.

I answered Amy generally, because her question was fairly general, how do you teach an inmate? But I recongized that if her question were more specific, as in how do you teach a sex offender, we would have to give much more attention to the issue to even begin to understand it. Now this article gives you considerable detail on what the real issues would be.

First of all, the concern with civil commitment is based on recidivism, the inmate doing the same thing again when he/she gets out. (Yes women engage in sex with young people and go back to the same practice when released also.) But notice that the Albany article says that "Eight percent of all convicted sex offenders in New York are arrested within eight years of being released, according to the state's Division of Criminal Justice Services." That's eight percent arrested, not eight percent convicted a second time. And that's 92% who are not arrested again within eight years of being released. Are we going to civilly commit 92% of former offenders who in eight years have not been caught repeating their crime? And which 92% or which 8% will be civilly committed? Notice that no one has figured this problem out yet.

Also notice that New York's move to civil commitment is based on public fear following some high profile (meaning the media played it up) cases, including one in which an adult rape victim was killed. What is the ethical requirement for making a case high profile? Just that the rest of the news was slow that week? Or do we want to hold our media to higher ethical standards (that word "standards" again, as in "educational standards"- notice how it keeps cropping up to blame others for not having them)?

Consider the issues of:

    What cost for . . .

  • false accusations and mistakes in judgment in original cases?
  • responding to fear, rather than considered and disciplined decision-making?
  • giving mass hysteria whatever it wants?
  • our inability to measure the antecedents of recidivism accurately and to predict recidivism accurately
  • experts confidence in what they "know" in a field in desperate need of research?
  • our mistaken conclusions on what works and what doesn't in preventing recurrences?

Consider also how there is gender inequality and confusion, based on past gender role models that may not be in tune with today's emerging roles. See Female Sex Offenders Drawing Increased Scrutiny by Ann M. Simmons, Los Angeles Times, january 13, 2006. Backup.

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