As reported in this Journal News article, by an overwhelming majority the New York State Senate passed a bill yesterday allowing for the civil commitment of violent sexual offenders upon the expiration of their prison sentences. The Assembly is expected to approve the bill tomorrow. The bill was the result of lengthy closed door meetings between newly elected Governor Spitzer and legislative leaders.
The article summarizes the important elements of the proposed bill:
The bill passed by the Senate yesterday would require that mental-health professionals evaluate sex offenders before they leave prison to determine if the convicts are likely to commit similar crimes. Then Attorney General Andrew Cuomo would decide whether to go to court to seek confinement.
A jury would determine if the convict can go free. Then it would be up to a judge to decide whether to confine the offender or impose strict supervision.
The bill, which lawmakers expect to pass next week, would also require:
- Mandatory treatment for all sex offenders, both while they are in prison and after they are released.
- Longer periods of parole supervision for sex offenders.
- Longer prison terms for sex crimes.
- A new state office to mandate the treatment and evaluation of sex offenders.
The bill's supporters estimate that about 100 people will be confined and another 250 will be put under intensive supervision.
Spitzer has put the cost at about $80 million a year.
I've posted numerous times in the past about the difficult and perplexing issue of what to do with sex offenders upon the expiration of their prison sentences. I find myself pulled in two directions on this one.
As an attorney with a criminal defense background I'm offended by the notion that people can be civilly committed indefinitely upon the expiration of their duly served prison sentence simply because they might commit an admittedly horrific crime in the future. And, in my opinion, far too many offenses include the requirement that one convicted be registered on the sexual offender registry.
But, as a mother and a woman, I wonder if this particular type of offender might merit special treatment given the high rates of recidivism for sex offenders. Rather than reinvent the wheel, let me reiterate what I stated in this prior post:
In my opinion, as it stands right now, the list of offenses that are included on the sexual offender registry is too broad and includes too many offenses. However, certain types of sexual offenders, such as child molesters, are extremely predatory and have little chance of being "cured." If released from prison upon serving their sentence, they'll continue to prey on children while creating future offenders in the process.
For certain classes of sexual predators, something needs to be done to prevent them from committing additional crimes. Whether civil commitment is the answer remains to be seen. Any program that is enacted, however, should be narrowly tailored to prevent future crimes and should include only those convicted of a very limited class of offenses.
From what I've read thus far regarding the proposed legislation, I'm not convinced that the proposed law sufficiently limits the offenses that would fall under the new requirements for post-release supervision or confinement. As for whether it meets my requirement of being narrowly tailored to prevent future crimes-- I'm still undecided on that issue. But, my gut reaction is that it's too broad in that respect as well.
But, despite my reservations regarding this bill, it looks like it's a go. It remains to be seen how it will operate in practice.
For more insightful commentary on this issue, see Scott Greenfield's recent post at Simple Justice.