In past blog posts we've discussed the concept of civil commitment for sex offenders who are deemed too high-risk for release after serving a sentence in prison or juvenile detention. People who are held in civil commitment facilities can languish there for years, possibly without getting any treatment because in many facilities it's optional. Civil commitment is highly controversial because it restricts freedom based on a mere assumption that someone will reoffend if they are released. At the same time, many people believe that a past offender's freedom isn't worth the risk of another crime.
This week a man who has been held under civil commitment for more than a decade was granted release by a judge in Racine, Wisconsin. The man, now 32, was convicted of molesting three girls, ages 6 and 9, when he was just 14 years old. After serving his sentence he was committed to a treatment center for sexually violent individuals in central Wisconsin.
The judge was reluctant to release the man, even though experts from the state said he had reached the legal threshold for civilly committed sex offenders: He was deemed no more likely to reoffend than not.
The judge lamented that there was no way to extend the man's stay at the facility or order him to receive treatment services after his release, a fact that isn't sitting well with the offender's advocates, either. Having resided at the facility for half of his life, the man may have a difficult time adjusting to life outside the center without any support services. Chapter 980, the law that allows civil commitments, doesn't offer any housing, health services or other support for offenders who are released.
This lack of support doesn't bode well for anyone who leaves civil commitment, especially those have been institutionalized for so many years. Instead of giving sex offenders a chance to turn their lives around, Chapter 980's lack of support increases the chance that released offenders will struggle the rest of their lives. With any luck, state lawmakers will one day recognize this and amend the law for the benefit of offenders and the public.
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Racine County sex offender gets rare release," Bruce Vielmetti, Nov. 28, 2012
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