On June  23 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Kansas v. Hendricks, upheld the practice of detaining people convicted of sexual offenses beyond prison sentences under the guise of treatment.

The landmark 5-4 ruling also concluded that the Kansas law governing the practice did not constitute  double jeopardy since it merely authorized “civil” rather than “criminal” commitments.

Taken together with  Kansas v. Crane, a 7-2 ruling announced in 2002  that denied requiring a set legal standard for determining “behavioral abnormality” in civil commitment proceedings, the  High Court in effect created a purgatory for persons who have served their sentences but are subject to indefinite detention based on fears that they are a danger to the public.

At least 20 states have involuntary sex offense civil commitment programs. So does the federal system.

A headline in Reason Magazine over a story by Jacob Sullum effectively summed up what such programs amount to: “Civil Commitment of Sex Offenders Pretends Prisoners Are Patients.”

There’s a good reason why critics refer to these programs as “shadow prisons”:  They resemble prison in all but name.


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