Archive for January 20, 2010

Iowa: Rethink Lifetime Sex Offender Supervision

January 20, 2010 Comments off Panel: Rethink lifetime supervision for sex offenders.

Lawmakers should revise state law to limit the number of sex offenders subject to lifetime supervision, focusing the state’s scarce resources on the highest-risk offenders, a state panel recommended Tuesday.

The move comes after a Des Moines Register probe in July showed Iowa’s experiment with lifetime monitoring of sex offenders would cost at the very minimum about $168 million over the next 20 years.

Iowa’s Sex Offender Research Council also advocated greater prevention efforts and additional research on how best to monitor offenders.

State Rep. Clel Baudler, who has long served on the House public safety committee, said he has heard no proposals thus far aimed at recommendations from the panel. One law change that quietly went into effect in 2006 required most sex offenders to serve “special sentences” after completing their original prison or probation sentences. The law was intended to better protect Iowa children from sexual predators, who previously could walk out of prison after serving their time with few restrictions. But since then, the number of offenders under 10-year and lifetime monitoring has grown from six in 2007 to 113 by September last year. By 2019, the number under 10-year supervision is expected to grow to 962, while those under lifetime probation will grow to 954.

The report also said lawmakers should reconsider the wisdom of subjecting juveniles to registration and residency requirements. The council said more juveniles are being adjudicated for sex offenses, but research shows only a small number commit new crimes as adults. Before revisions in Iowa’s sex offender laws last summer, some 42 of the 5,041 offenders on the registry were juveniles. Prior to that, only 27 of 312 juveniles adjudicated for sex offenses from fiscal year 2006 to 2008 were placed on the registry.
The law change took away juvenile court discretion in placing juveniles 14 or older on the sex-offender registry for certain offenses. More offenders ages 14 and 15 are winding up on the registry as a result.

Read report here (PDF).

A Step Too Far in Detainment of Sex Offenders

January 20, 2010 Comments off Los Angeles Times: A step too far in detainment, even for sex offenders.

The Supreme Court hears a case about civil commitment, but appears to be focusing on the wrong angle.

When we learned that the Supreme Court was reviewing a law that allows the federal government to confine prisoners indefinitely even after they have completed their prison sentences, we naturally assumed that the legal issue involved due process for the prisoner.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case last week when the court heard arguments over the constitutionality of the indefinite detention of “sexually dangerous” prisoners. The justices’ questions mostly focused on whether Washington, as opposed to the states, has the authority to do so — not whether indefinite detention is allowable.

That issue of federalism isn’t unimportant, but the more pressing question is whether civil commitment for a mental condition is being misused to force felons to remain in prison after they’ve completed their legal sentences.

The court gave states (including Minnesota) that power in 1997 when it ruled 5 to 4 that Kansas had properly committed a sex offender who was about to be released. The state had enacted a law allowing for the confinement in a state hospital of “any person who has been convicted of or charged with a sexually violent offense and who suffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder which makes the person likely to engage in the predatory acts of sexual violence.” As Justice Stephen G. Breyer noted in his dissent, the commitment in that case “was not simply an effort to commit (the prisoner) civilly, but rather an effort to inflict further punishment upon him.”

Given the conventional (though disputed) consensus that all sex offenders are incorrigible, it’s not surprising that officials would try to use the civil commitment process to dispense with the protections of criminal law. To convict a defendant of rape or child molestation, prosecutors must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Under the law being reviewed by the Supreme Court, the government merely needed to show “clear and convincing evidence” of an inmate’s dangerousness.

The federal government and the states have rightly adopted a harder line against sex offenses, and have in some cases subjected offenders — even those who have served their sentences — to registration and monitoring.

But using the civil commitment process to lengthen a criminal sentence is dishonest and dangerous. If the court were to strike down this section of the 2006 law, both Washington and the states might take a new look at this problem and better balance constitutional rights and public safety.