Acts of Abuse: Sex Offenders and the Criminal Justice System

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Sexual predator statutes distort the meaning and practice of civil commitment. Involuntary civil commitment is very controversial among people with mental health conditions and their families, with some people seeing it as inherently illegitimate because of its coercive nature, and others seeing it as an undesirable but sometimes necessary last resort. MHA shares the latter view. But the basic rationale of involuntary confinement is that people are found to be dangerous to self or others due to mental illness at the time of the commitment, that they receive treatment until they show that they have regained their competency and are recovering, and that they are then released to continue their recovery voluntarily in the community because they no longer present the imminent danger that they did at the time of the commitment.

The essence of the rationale for the curtailment of liberty and privacy inherent in civil commitment is that the confinement is time-limited and paired with a course of treatment.


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None of these essential elements is present in the case of a person convicted of a sex offense committed after serving a prison sentence. Thus, sexual predator commitments are an abuse of civil commitment.


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To detain potentially violent people convicted of sex offenses in mental health facilities puts other people with mental health conditions in those facilities at risk. Even secure forensic units have a treatment purpose.

To use such units for the detention of offenders who do not have a treatable mental health condition is a threat to the safety and viability of the mental health system and a waste of precious treatment resources. Sexual predator laws blur the line between the mental health and criminal justice systems in ways that confuse policy makers, including judges, mislead the public and are unfair even to those who, due to their behavior, may be deserving of long-term incarceration.

The criminal justice system is intended to punish only those persons who commit crimes of their own free will. Thus, all but five states provide some form of an insanity defense for those whose crimes are closely related to serious mental illness. And plea bargains can essentially be circumvented by commitment after completion of the stipulated sentence. If a person who has committed a sex offense is in fact not guilty by reason of insanity, it is may be a great disservice to agree to a plea to a lesser criminal offense, since sexual predator laws are likely to result in a longer period of incarceration.

Other provisions in the criminal law requiring proof of a specific mental state also contribute to this important protection. Thus, only those persons who choose to commit a sex offense should be convicted and punished for these offenses. Seling v. Conversely, sexual predator laws are only applied to persons who have already been convicted and served a term of imprisonment, having been found criminally responsible for their sexually violent behavior. Given this contradiction, it is not surprising that these laws were upheld by the Supreme Court by only a one-vote margin in Kansas v.

Moreover, the Court remains badly divided over these laws. In Kansas v.

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Crane , U. The confusion over whether sex offenders are deserving of punishment as criminals or entitled to treatment due to an illness often carries over to the terms of their incarceration. In some states, sexual predators must be cared for in facilities operated by the state mental health authority in a building which is located inside a prison operated by the state correctional authority. The United States Supreme Court has demonstrated its own ambivalence about whether these laws are civil or criminal. In upholding the power of the federal government to enact a sex offender commitment law in United States v.

Comstock , U. Public mental health systems in most states and localities are financially stressed and in many cases inadequately funded to meet the mental health treatment needs of non-offenders with serious emotional disturbances and serious mental illnesses. Because most people who commit sex offenses do not have a diagnosable mental health condition relating to their offense, it is extremely difficult to determine which persons who have committed sex offenses should be committed, to provide effective treatment for those who are committed and to determine whether, when and under what conditions a committed sex offender should be released.

This research translation discusses findings that suggest most perpetrators do not chronically offend over time. This guide by CSOM helps policymakers and practitioners assess and strengthen their approaches to managing adult and juvenile sex offenders. MASOC is a coalition of professionals committed to stopping sexual abuse through early and specialized intervention, assessment, treatment, and management in the lives of sexually abusive children and youth. Information is available for parents and caregivers and professionals working with youth.

This project funded by the Office on Violence Against Women OVW provides resources about collaboration between victim advocates and sexual offender treatment providers.

NCJRS Abstract

This report from CSOM addresses the importance of the public as a partner in the criminal justice system's response to sex offenders. National Parole Resource Center provides this resource packet to assist paroling authorities with sex offender management practices. This resource from the Colorado Sex Offender Management Board establishes a basis for systematic management and treatment of adult sex offenders. This resource from the Colorado Sex Offender Management Board provides information on victims, standards of practice for treatment providers, qualifications of providers, multidisciplinary teams, conditions of community supervision, and polygraph examinations.

This technical package discusses prevention strategies, including approaches specific to preventing perpetration. This report by CSOM discusses sex offender employment, including assessing potential job placements, approaches to job searches, making sound job placement decisions, developing relationships with employers, and monitoring sex offenders' job-related activities. This Canadian-made restorative justice program is designed for adult men and women who have committed serious sexual offences. CoSA allows the community to play a direct role in the restoration, reintegration, and risk management of people who have sexually offended.

This resource by Joann Schladale explains the difference between reconciliation and reunification, provides information on barriers to successful reunification, and gives recommendations for treatment.

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This guide by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center helps advocates work with families considering reunification with a family member who has sexually offended. This resource by CSOM was designed for parole and probation officers, advocates, and treatment providers who work with people who have sexually offended.

The guide includes issues to consider and assessments to determine readiness for reunification. National Reentry Resource Center. The National Reentry Resource Center assists professionals working with criminal offenders, including those who have committed sexual offenses, in returning to the community. This webinar by the National Reentry Resource Center provides a foundational overview of sex offender re-entry, with a focus on criminal justice professionals. This document by the International Association of Chiefs of Police explores legislation related to tracking and monitoring sex offenders, identifies the challenges faced by law enforcement, and examines the role that citizens play in assisting law enforcement in these efforts.

The NSOPW website has a list of registered sex offenders throughout the United States as well as a number of resources related to prevention of and intervention to address sexual assault. It also provides links to most state sex offender registries and websites. This page from the New York State Sex Offender Registry describes sex offender risk levels, which govern the amount and type of community notification authorized for sex offenders.

The ERASOR is a structured professional judgment tool to assist evaluators in estimating the short-term risk of a sexual re-offense for youth aged This overview by the CSOM discusses the role assessments play in ensuring informed and effective management of sex offenders. The J-SOAP-II is a checklist whose purpose is to aid in the systematic review of risk factors that have been identified in the professional literature as being associated with sexual and criminal offending. It is designed to be used with boys in the age range of 12 to 18 who have been adjudicated for sexual offenses, as well as non-adjudicated youths with a history of sexually coercive behavior.

Risk Matrix PDF, 44 pages. Risk Matrix is a statistically derived risk-classification process intended for adult males aged at least 18 who have been convicted of a sex offense. The SMART Office has published information on research and best practices related to sex offender management and treatment of adults and juveniles who commit sexual offenses.

Chapter 6 covers risk assessment of adults who commit sexual offenses, and Chapter 4 covers assessment of juveniles who commit sexual offenses. SOTIPS is a item, statistically derived dynamic measure designed to aid clinicians, correctional caseworkers, and probation and parole officers in assessing risk, treatment and supervision needs, and progress among adult male sex offenders.

The SVR is a item checklist of risk factors for sexual assault that were identified by a review of the literature on sex offenders. The STABLE and the ACUTE are specialized tools designed to assess and track changes in risk status over time by assessing changeable dynamic risk factors used primarily with the adult population.

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Chapter 3: Sex Offender Typologies | Sex Offender Management Assessment and Planning Initiative

Static is a item actuarial assessment instrument for use with adult male sexual offenders who are at least 18 years of age at time of release to the community. In , the age item for the scale was updated, creating StaticR. StaticR is the most widely used sex offender risk assessment in the world.

VASOR-2 is designed to assess risk among adult males who have been convicted of at least one qualifying sex offense. These actuarial scales predict further violence of men or women who have committed criminal assault or recidivism of men who have committed at least one hands-on sexual offense. ATSA promotes evidence-based practice, public policy, and community strategies to help assess, treat, and manage sexual abusers. Its website provides public policy information, publications on standards of treatment, and a code of ethics.

CSOM acts as an information exchange and provides training and technical assistance to those who work in sex offender management. NAPN is the leading national membership organization for professionals who serve children and adolescents who have perpetrated sexual abuse. Founded in , NAPN remains dedicated to the promotion and rapid dissemination of developmentally informed evidence-based best practices in assessment, treatment, and case management. NAESV works for state coalitions and local programs to end sexual violence and support survivors. Part of their work is based upon the belief that policies formulated to manage sex offenders must have as a primary goal the prevention of future sexual victimization.

Such policies must hold sex offenders accountable while providing support and safety for victims and their families. This site provides resources related to sexual assaults and those who perpetrate or are victimized by such behavior, and prevention-oriented resources. National Sex Offender Public Website. The National Sex Offender Public Website is an unprecedented public safety resource that provides the public with access to information about sex offenders nationwide.

The website also offers information about national resources as well as prevention and education information. NEARI Press is a source of practical, cutting-edge information for professionals and the public about promising and best-practice interventions with adult and adolescent sex offenders or with those who display sexual behavior problems.

The SMART Office website offers states guidance regarding the implementation of the Adam Walsh Act, provides technical assistance, tracks legislative and legal developments related to sex offenders, and administers grant programs. The Safer Society Foundation. This foundation supports the Safer Society Press, which publishes books on all aspects of sex offending.

If we believe that, we are fooling ourselves and, worse, doing our children a disservice.

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Sex offenders live in every American community, and children need supervision no matter what. Laws like banishment zone ordinances actually make us less safe, as they impede offender rehabilitation and thereby increase the likelihood of reoffense. People who transition from prison into society face countless challenges, and most have very limited resources, financial or otherwise. People who want to lead law-abiding lives after serving a prison sentence need to establish stability in their homes, jobs and families.

Those are difficult things to achieve, but add to this the consequences of Megan's Law and limits to where offenders can live, and few have hope of succeeding. Indeed, the fear of the stigma of Megan's Law can force offenders underground, out of the watchful eye of police and parole officers.

Acts of Abuse: Sex Offenders and the Criminal Justice System

Banishment zone laws may very likely force sexual offenders to move from environments in which they have support networks into other communities in which they have no support, putting residents in their new communities at risk. Further, people who are labeled as sex offenders lose jobs, get evicted, are threatened with death, and harassed by neighbors. Some have had their homes burned down or been beaten in acts of vigilantism. Coping with this kind of stress is almost impossible, and without exceptionally strong support systems, most are doomed to fail.