Symposium: Preventative Detention: Sex Offender Exceptionalism and Preventive Detention
36 Pages Posted: 5 Sep 2012
Date Written: 2011
The emerging war on sex offenders, as typical of wartime mentality, has been marked by substantial deviations from established legal doctrine, constitutional protections, and the rule of law. Because of a high level of panic among the general population about sex offenders the use of preventative detention for sex offenders has received little attention or scrutiny. While the population of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has slowly decreased, the number of persons in state and federal detention centers dedicated to sex offenders has continued to climb. With the courts largely rubber stamping the federal civil commitment of sex offenders allowed under the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act (AWA) in 2006, the path has been cleared for an enormous expansion of sex offender detention.
Because of the limited attention given to these detentions, they represent a particularly dire threat to American liberties. The normal societal and institutional checks against government abuse embodied in the media, public, Constitution, and courts have essentially been removed. We authorize government to detain indefinitely those who are deemed “sexually dangerous” at our peril. Instead of waiting for someone to commit a wrong, the government acts to restrict liberty of persons who have yet to commit a wrong (but the government believes will likely do so in the future). The criminal justice system offers plenty of opportunities for the government to prosecute someone before harm is done using inchoate and conspiracy crimes. To go beyond those already broad tools, the circumstances should be highly exceptional, the danger should be real and imminent, and the net should be cast narrowly. In the case of sex offender civil commitment, the circumstances are no more dangerous than for other serious crimes, the risk is speculative based upon pseudo-science, and the net is far too broad. Because of these aspects of sex offender civil commitment laws, America should fundamentally reconsider its approach to fighting sexual violence. Laws like AWA, premised on myths that allocate substantial resources in a never ending war, do not create a just or better society.
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