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Sex Offenders and Mental Illness: A Lesson in Federalism and the Separation of Powers

NCJ Number
Psychology, Public Policy, and Law Volume: 4 Issue: 1/2 Dated: March/June 1998 Pages: 268-296
Stephen R. McAllister
Date Published
March 1998
29 pages
This analysis of the United States Supreme Court’s 1997 decision in Kansas v. Hendricks concludes that the Court relied on the appropriate principles of constitutional adjudication in supporting the Kansas Sexually Violent Predator Act, which provided for the civil commitment of certain sex offenders.
The Kansas law provides for civil commitment of sex offenders who have medically recognized mental disorders, who have committed sexually violent offenses in the past, and who will probably continue to prey on vulnerable members of society if released without treatment due to the nature of their disorders. The law also includes extensive procedural safeguards. The Court’s deference to reasonable legislative judgements regarding the substance of State civil commitment laws was appropriate as a matter of constitutional law due to important institutional and structural considerations. The Hendricks decision suggests two propositions for mental health professionals who are interested influencing the law of civil commitment. First, mental health professionals must offer their expertise and input in the legislative process. Second, when possible, mental health professionals should identify and explain for the courts any professional consensus on important issues regarding the definition and treatment of mental conditions. Footnotes