By Scott Michels
Medical experts raise questions about indefinite civil commitment for troubled youths
At 21, [name withheld] has spent nearly half his life in confinement.
When he was 13, [name withheld] was sent to a juvenile detention center for raping and sexually abusing a younger relative over a period of years. When he was 17, [name withheld] became the youngest person indefinitely committed to South Carolina’s adult violent sex offender treatment program, according to court testimony.
The government initially placed [name withheld] in a restricted wing and assigned a staff member to stay with him to protect him from the other residents, many of them middle-aged child molesters, a program psychologist testified earlier this year.
Four years after his civil commitment, [name withheld] is asking the South Carolina Supreme Court to order his release. Though experts for the state Attorney General’s Office say [name withheld] is still dangerous, a psychologist at the sex offender commitment center testified at a court hearing earlier this year that [name withheld] has not shown signs of sexually violent behavior since before he was 13, and should be released.
- So basically they are saying that the "experts" at the AG's office know better than the true experts who have been working with the kid since he was admitted? Sounds to me like the AG is just protecting itself, and doesn't want to let the kid out and he possibly re-offend, making them look bad, to some people.
“[name withheld] was at best 11 years old when he committed his crime; he was a child,” said Brana Williams, [name withheld]’s attorney.
“And now he may be locked up for the rest of his life. This is why they say you should not get life without parole when you’re that young. You’re not who you’re going to be.”
At least 10 states allow some form of juvenile sex offender civil commitment, according to research compiled by the Defender Association of Philadelphia. In four of those states, at least 52 adults—not including [name withheld]—are currently indefinitely committed as sex offenders as a result of crimes they committed when they were juveniles, state departments of corrections and mental health said in response to inquiries from JJIE.
The six other states either do not track such commitments or did not respond to requests for information in time for publication.
The juvenile offenders are described by prosecutors as the “worst of the worst”—those likely to commit another sex crime and therefore too dangerous to release.
- Prosecutors jobs are to lock people up, period, they are not experts who treat people who have committed sexual crimes, so their biased opinions, in our opinion, are not worth a grain of salt!
But some mental health experts who specialize in the treatment and risk assessment of juvenile sex offenders say civil commitments raise troubling questions. In many cases, these experts say they cannot reliably predict whether a young person who has committed a sex crime will grow up to become a dangerous sex offender.
- But somehow the AG and prosecutors "can?"
“If someone says I want to protect the public from the very small number of individuals who are highly dangerous, but I don’t want to put children in institutions for things they might have done, the reality is you cannot have it both ways,” said Mark Chaffin, a director at the Center for Child Abuse and Neglect at the University of Oklahoma Heath Sciences Center.
“A very small number of kids are really likely to do horrible things,” Chaffin added in an interview with JJIE. “If you want to protect the public, the price you pay is that you will harm probably a larger number of children who are not going to commit crimes.”
“That’s what no one really wants to face.”
In a series of cases over the last eight years, the Supreme Court has signaled a shift in how the law treats underage criminals.
In 2005, the Court banned mandatory death penalty for juveniles in Roper v Simmons (PDF). Five years later, in Graham v. Florida, the Court barred mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles who were not convicted of murder; and in June this year (PDF) it ruled that all mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles violated Constitutional protections against “cruel and unusual punishment.”
The justices’ decisions were based in part on briefs from medical experts arguing that juveniles’ under-developed brains, immaturity and impulsiveness made them less culpable for their actions. Because of that immaturity, the Court wrote (PDF) in 2005, “juvenile offenders cannot with reliability be classified among the worst offenders.”