The cost of civil commitment

The NYT has published part one of a three part series examining civil commitment throughout the country on the eve of New York implementing its civil commitment program for sex offenders. The costs are staggering and range from 300-500% of the costs of incarceration.

Here is a fantastic graphic detailing the number of offenders, their age, races and the costs relative to incarceration for each state. Some highlights:

Even with the enthusiasm among politicians, an examination by The New York Times of the existing programs found they have failed in a number of areas:

¶Sex offenders selected for commitment are not always the most violent; some exhibitionists are chosen, for example, while rapists are passed over. In Wisconsin, a 102-year-old who wears a sport coat to dinner cannot participate in treatment because of memory lapses and poor hearing.

¶The treatment regimens are expensive and largely unproven, and there is no way to compel patients to participate.

¶The cost of the programs is virtually unchecked and growing, with states spending nearly $450 million on them this year. The annual price of housing a committed sex offender averages more than $100,000, compared with about $26,000 a year for keeping someone in prison.

¶Unlike prisons and other institutions, civil commitment centers receive little standard, independent oversight or monitoring;

¶Successful treatment is often not a factor in determining the relatively few offenders who are released;

¶Few states have figured out what to do when they do have graduates ready for supervised release.

Supporters of the laws offer no apologies for their shortcomings, insisting that the money is well spent. Born out of the anguish that followed a handful of high-profile sex crimes in the 1980s, the laws are proven and potent vote-getters that have withstood constitutional challenges.

Thanks to Prof. Berman.

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