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News SCOTUS Decision: Some Sex Offenders Indefinitely Incarcerated.

  1. May 17, 2010 #1

    My heart is thrilled, but I cannot resolve this with the principles of American jurisprudence, and the notion that sex offenders are more incorrigable than a thieving and murdering sociopath isn't intellectually sound. Then, my heart gives a, "let the bastards rot" and I'm back to square one.

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  3. May 17, 2010 #2


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    Suspicious that it's one of those, introduce the rules for terrorism/sex-offenders/child murderers/anyone the public hates - then we can extend it where convenient.
    Or it will become an unthinking zero-tolerance/three strikes type policy and we end up with a lot of homeless doing life sentences for peeing in an alley.
  4. May 17, 2010 #3
    That is my concern too. People can make all of the "Papier bitte!" jokes about Arizona that they like, but this is the real deal, if only a possible beginning.

    Let us be blunt, we all are revolted by rapists, molesters, and such, but how does this matter in regards to the law? This makes me think of, "First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

    Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me. "

    First the rapists are incurable and locked away, then the killers, then drug addicts, and then....? Perhaps if prison in the US were truly a matter of rehabilitation and not simply a cage.
  5. May 17, 2010 #4
    How soon until an 18 year old convicted of statutory rape for sleeping with a 16 year old is sent to prison for life? Meanwhile we dress up 15 year olds from the Disney channel and sell them as sex symbols...
  6. May 17, 2010 #5


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    The problem is that if you allow any sort of judicial/medical professional to make a decision there will be mistakes, so somebody will be released at the end of their sentence and commit a further offense. The response from the politicians and liability insurance lawyers will be for a zero tolerance mandatory life sentence for sex offenders. And remember sex-offenders already covers indecent exposure (peeing in an alley) and creating obscene images (clicking on a link in a joke office email).

    Remember how three-strikes was supposed to put away vicious hardened killers? And mostly ended up giving homless guys life sentences for stealing a slice of pizza.
    Last edited: May 17, 2010
  7. May 17, 2010 #6
    Yeah, that 3 strikes is an abomination.
  8. May 17, 2010 #7
    Somewhat suprisingly, the age of consent laws are more reasonable then one would think given common knowledge. In most states, the age of consent is 16, and in states which this is not the case, there are close age exemptions.

    Nevertheless, I think the principle is troubling for the likley extension of this principle to a larger range of crimes (including the example of "sex offenses" like indecent exposure for public urination)
  9. May 17, 2010 #8


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    The problem also comes from the tougher-on-crime than the opposite party arms race or to match their own followers' prejudices.

    So one party introduces mandatory life sentences for offenses by illegal immigrants, the other then demands it where the victim is an ethnic minority.
    The first then counters with drug offense and party B matches that with crimes where a gun is used.
  10. May 17, 2010 #9
    If the person is deemed a danger to their self and others then it would seem only responsible to keep them in custody. There only needs to be some acceptable standard for making such a determination.
  11. May 18, 2010 #10

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    But isn't this the same as imprisoning people for a future crime that someone thinks they may someday commit?
  12. May 18, 2010 #11
    It seems that way to me, and if so, why are killers not first up? There is little that is rational here, and it was a 7-2 decision!
  13. May 18, 2010 #12


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    The appropriateness of the policy wasn't an issue before the court. The Adam Walsh act was challenged on the premise that Congress was overstepping into powers reserved to the state, and the ruling specifically states, "The Court does not reach or decide any claim that the statute or its application denies equal protection, procedural or substantive dueprocess, or any other constitutional rights. Respondents are free to pursue those claims on remand, and any others they have preserved." (http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-1224.pdf)

    The act, itself, doesn't allow federal prisons to keep people convicted of sex crimes indefinitely. It allows federal prisons to keep people with a mental illness dangerous to the public until they are cured (which could be the same as indefinitely). Federal prisons are already allowed to do this, so it doesn't look like a huge change on the surface.

    In fact, it is. A criminal has to be found to have a mental illness that makes him dangerous to himself or others in order to currently be held in prison past their sentence. The same could be said of the Adam Walsh Act, except it focuses on just one type of mental illness. Quite a few are of the notion that sexual offenders suffer from sort of disorder that makes repeat crimes inevitable. If that idea gains widespread acceptance and the public places extreme pressure on prisons to find all sex offenders incurable, then the act could, in effect, make most sex crimes a life sentence.

    Realistically, that probably won't happen, since the same people currently making decisions about mental illness in federal prisoners will be making decisions about federal sex offenders. And the real rate of recidivism in sex offenders is far from determined, something psychologists in federal prisons should be well aware of (How Likely Are Sex Offenders to Repeat Their Crimes?)

    I'd also note that a person that hasn't committed any crimes could be committed involuntarily due to a mental illness that makes them a danger to themselves or others.

    The idea of keeping prisoners past the time they were sentenced to serve bothers me, as well, especially if this act winds up being abused. I think it's something to watch, though - not an automatic violation of prisoners' rights.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2017
  14. May 18, 2010 #13
    I dont agree with the part "danger to self". An adult person should be well within its rights to kill itself, harm itself, take dangerous drugs (i.e smoking) and do anything it wants with it's self.
  15. May 18, 2010 #14
    I am looking forward to getting home from work later to add my 2 cents. This has turned into an interesting chat.
  16. May 18, 2010 #15
    Not really. If a person is not considered competent enough to refrain from acting in a manner dangerous to themselves or others then it can easily come back on whom ever decided to release them since whom ever is keeping them is considered responsible for them. Even the prisoners in question themselves could sue or deny culpability for crimes on the basis that they should not have been released. I am unsure that there are any definite legal specifications for making such a determination of competency but I believe it is generally pretty strict. As Bob notes there is room for abuse, any person who admits to certain types of sexual fantasies may automatically be considered unfit for interacting with the general populace, but this speaks primarily to keeping a strict standard.

    As Bob already notes this decision was about whether or not the federal government is allowed this discretion, it is not about whether the practice itself is inappropriate. In many ways the fed is restricted far more than the states. It seems that the federal government offered to step in to assist with criminals that could be construed to fall within its domain in order to take the burden of dealing with these criminals off of the states and the question is whether or not they have over stepped their bounds even though the policies being questioned are not anything new. Its basically a technical question of jurisdiction.
    And I am fairly certain that killers are first up. The criminally insane are typically indefinitely institutionalized one way or another, its just that this is usually done by the states.

    Missed you Dan!
    Suicidal tendencies (not the band) and unhealthy habits are an entirely different debate but I was more considering the general inability of mentally imbalanced people to take care of themselves such as a person who might wander into freeway traffic for no discernible reason. The manner in which this applies to sex offenders is certainly an interesting question though.
  17. May 18, 2010 #16


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    Trouble is that in the ideal case the decision would be made by psychologists. The same group of 'experts' who currently hand out Ritalin to any kid that puts his hand up in class, that 30years ago were giving ECT for being depressed and 50years ago were sterilizing people so they didn't pass on criminal tendencies.

    In practice the decision is going to be made by politicians, or politically appointees following close professional guidance from their media relations consultants.
  18. May 18, 2010 #17
    Such for criminals are generally over run. It is in their best interest to be choosy who they think that they should hold onto. And I am fairly certain that "experts" and judges are the ones who will make the decisions, not politicians.
  19. May 18, 2010 #18


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    The same group of experts that found lobotomies to be a good cure for otherwise incurable criminally insane, that were as prone to violence against hospital staff as they would have been to the general public. Even if the decisions aren't made by politicians or political appointees, there's always some type of extraneous pressure that can affect the soundness of the expert decisions.

    In this case, there could be pressure from political appointees that affect the criteria for retaining/releasing sex offenders in general, even if they won't make decisions about individual prisoners. There can be that pressure to lean towards retaining if there's any doubt about the safety of releasing them. There's the pressure to lean towards releasing when in doubt if the mental hospital becomes too crowded - i.e. a pressure to start releasing the least dangerous.

    In an environment where the public would be more outraged at releasing child molestors than other violent criminals, the results of overcrowding could be interesting.

    I doubt there will be widespread abuses, but I'd surprised to see no bad decisions at all.
  20. May 18, 2010 #19
    There is the issue that while rapists and pedophiles tend to relapse in their deviant behavior, the same is true of drug addicts, and many violent felons. Why is sexual assault special, more so than murder or general sociopathy? Shall we rely on fMRIs to test impulse control of our 2 million inmates, and then allow the same government that cannot manage Minerals Management to leap ahead of current neuroscience and psychology?!

    Now, if the plan were part of a comprehensive prison reform, in which recidivist criminals were held, and those who commit property crimes and drug offenses are not, that could make sense. In the application of this however, a basic tenant of American justice is harmed: holding people indefinitely is mad. Psychology is useful, but it is not a science, and how do you choose the experts? The "tough on crime" one-upsmanship mentioned earlier seems politically and personally inevitable.

    For me, this is a simple issue: prisons in the US are an industry, and the laws in question are too broad. If the government did its job and funded a mental health infrastructure, then we could separate the sick and deviant from the merely criminal. By allowing for indefinite holds, do we not reduce the impetus to find treatments?
  21. May 19, 2010 #20
    While I agree it could be a slippery slope, there are just some sexual offenders that will repeat, no matter how much time they spend in jail.. so do you just keep unleashing them to rape until they escalate to murder, and can be dealt with?

    The simple solution is to make rape a capital offense, perhaps a 3 strike, then death scenario, where the worst get taken out of circulation.

    Until science can modify brain chemistry severely and permanently, there's just no fixing some people...

    If you smoke and then quit smoking (I know I use this one a lot) you can go the rest of your life and not smoke. You will get urges, sure, but they pass. But you also know that you have to stay away from other people who smoke, because if you constantly subject yourself to your old environment, you will fall back into your old habits. You can get away from smoking, but how do you get away from women? Join a monostary? For some I imagine it's just overwhelming temptation, and the slightest provocation leads to repetiion. Since you can't "escape" women (or it's much harder) this leads to repeat offense.

    Bottom line is that people like this operated against society, which is 50% female, so to reject thier sickness they have to reject society- become hermits. Since this isn't realistic, some folks just need to die.

    Just my take..
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