Rethinking the Indefinite Detention of Sex Offenders

43 Pages Posted: 24 May 2011 Last revised: 7 Jun 2011

See all articles by Fredrick E. Vars

Fredrick E. Vars

University of Alabama - School of Law

Date Written: May 19, 2011


Thousands of sex offenders in the United States are being held indefinitely under civil commitment programs. The analysis in this Article suggests that none (or precious few) belong there. Specifically, in a large dataset, an instrument as good as the one most widely used by experts (the “Static-99”) could not identify even one sex offender who met the legal standards for commitment. Supplementing such instruments with additional information appears not to improve matters, so the failure of the instrument is profoundly disturbing.

There are three possible responses: (1) improve instruments to meet existing standards; (2) lower the standards; and (3) abandon sex offender civil commitment. This Article focuses on the first response, identifying and correcting flaws in the most widely-used instrument. But the greater significance of the Article is to reframe the debate around the other two potential responses. Can we predict the future well enough to justify the indefinite detention of “dangerous” people?

Keywords: sex offender, civil commitment, standard of proof, Static-99

Suggested Citation

Vars, Fredrick E., Rethinking the Indefinite Detention of Sex Offenders (May 19, 2011). Connecticut Law Review, Vol. 44, 2011, U of Alabama Public Law Research Paper No. 1846809, Available at SSRN: or

Fredrick E. Vars (Contact Author)

University of Alabama - School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 870382
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487
United States

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