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Civil Commitment of Sexual Predators: A Study in Policy Implementation

NCJ Number
Andrew J. Harris
Date Published
288 pages
This book assesses State laws and policies that provide for the involuntary civil commitment to State custody of individuals defined as "sexually violent predators" (SVPs).
Regarding predictions of risk and the effectiveness of treatment technologies, the study found procedures to be sufficiently reliable and valid to meet fundamental legal standards for involuntary civil commitment. As long as commitment is based on an assumed purpose of treatment and a reasonable level of certainty regarding risk for reoffending, there are few conceptual barriers to the commitment process. Regarding treatment and potential for release, however, the practical effects of technological limits were found to be much more significant. The prospective profile of the SVP population, limitations in treatment effectiveness, reliance on static factors as the legal basis for commitment, and the potential for significant political barriers to release all combine to create a system more concerned with incapacitation than treatment aimed at release. Costs also loom as a significant challenge. Some States are apparently dealing with this issue by selecting fewer individuals for SVP commitment. Much of the data collected for this analysis were obtained through a combination of legislative research and direct outreach to a range of organizations and individuals involved in the design and implementation of SVP civil commitment policies. Several discussions and informal interviews were conducted with individuals involved in implementation, monitoring, and evaluating SVP programs. Quantitative information, notably budget and workload information, was corroborated across multiple sources when possible. 25 tables, 43 figures, and 162 references