The public’s panic about the fear of recidivism if adjudicated sex offenders are ever to be released to the community has not subsided, despite the growing amount of information and statistically-reliable data signifying a generally low risk of re-offense. The established case law upholding sex offender civil commitment and containment statutes has rejected challenges of unconstitutionality, and continues to be dominated by punitive undertones. We have come to learn that the tools used to assess offenders for risk and civil commitment are often inaccurate and that meaningful treatment for this population is often unavailable and ineffective. Yet, society continues to clamor for legislation confining this cohort of offenders for “treatment,” and, ostensibly, protection of the community, and legislatures respond quickly to these calls. This “reform legislation” often includes strict and demeaning post-release restrictions that track offenders and curb their integration into society. These “reforms” continue to show no benefit either to the public or to the individual offender. The absence of meaningful and effective treatment during confinement, combined with inhumane conditions upon release, make it far less likely that this cohort of individuals will ever become productive members of society. Only through therapeutic jurisprudence, a focus on rehabilitation, and a dedication to treating sexual offenders humanely, will it be possible to reduce recidivism and foster successful community reintegration.
This article takes a new approach to these issues. It examines sex offender laws, past and present, looks at this area of sex offender commitment and containment through a therapeutic jurisprudence lens, and suggests basic policy changes that would optimally and constitutionally minimize re-offense rates, while upholding and protecting human rights of all citizens. It highlights the failure of community containment laws and ordinances by focusing on (1) the myths/perceptions that have arisen about sex offenders, and how society incorporates those myths into legislation, (2) the lack of rehabilitation offered to incarcerated or civilly-committed offenders, resulting in inadequate re-entry preparation, (3) the anti-therapeutic and inhumane effect of the laws and ordinances created to restrict sex offenders in the community, and (4) the reluctance and resistance of courts to incorporate therapeutic jurisprudence in seeking to remediate this set of circumstances. It concludes by offering some modest suggestions, based on the adoption of a therapeutic jurisprudence model of analysis.
22 Temp. Pol. & Civ. Rts. L. Rev. 1 (2012-2013)