The trial of advocate, Galen Baughman, will begin this coming Monday to determine whether he will be civilly committed. Civil commitment is the involuntary detention of an individual beyond the expiration of their sentence. In other words, after a defendant’s criminal sanction is completed, certain states (Florida included) have laws that will allow the government to keep an individual locked up, even though their sentence expired.
The problem with these civil commitment schemes, among many, is that the detention is indefinite and the due process safeguards that would normally apply to a criminal trial, don’t apply to a civil commitment trial. In Florida you can add another major problem; our civil commitment center is run by a private, for profit, entity who makes more money the longer someone stays locked up.
In Galen’s case, his trial is in Virginia and he’s not potentially being civilly committed for a new crime, but for a probation violation on his underlying conviction for which he was serving probation, and that crime took place sixteen years ago.
Many in the advocacy community were angry at Galen because they felt that he, being so outspoken about our cause, turned himself from the poster child of reform to the poster child of recidivism. He should have made better decisions. For those who feel this way, set aside the individual and focus on the process… one that can incarcerate an individual for life, without the protections of a criminal trial, without the ability to present a proper defense and without having convicted an underlying crime. It’s something everyone should be concerned with.