by Douglas Ankney
With the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), news pundits and left-leaning politicians decry the “radical” justices on the U.S. Supreme Court as if the High Court’s utter disrespect for the freedom guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution is a recent development. Beginning with the 19th century opinions in Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1856), and Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896), that denied human dignity to Black Americans, the Justices have demonstrated their willingness to deny basic constitutional rights to the powerless and unpopular.
Continuing with their appalling disrespect for the dignity of all people, in June of 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t prohibit detaining people convicted of sexual offenses beyond the expiration of their prison sentences if the detainment is for “treatment.” The Justices in Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U.S. 346 (1997), held that a Kansas law authorizing the practice does not violate double jeopardy because the commitment is for “civil” rather than “criminal” purposes. Yet the duplicity of the Court’s reasoning was revealed in the 2002 decision of Kansas v. Crane, 534 U.S. 407 (2002), in which the Justices ruled there is no set legal standard for determining “behavioral abnormality” among sex offenders before “civil commitment” may be imposed.
Prisoners who’ve served their sentences are then incarcerated in “civil commitment facilities” that are commonly referred to as “shadow prisons” — and with good reason. Former Minnesota State Senator Don Betzold said of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (“MSOP”): “The sex offender treatment program is like a prison — only worse, because there’s no ‘out’ date. The Moose Lake building was designed as a maximum-security prison. The treatment program has been led by some state employees who came from corrections backgrounds.” The “civil commitment program” in Littlefield, Texas, is operated by the private prison company Management and Training Corporation and, like most such facilities, refers to those detained as “prisoners,” not “patients.” The Littlefield facility was formerly used as a private prison until it was shut down after a prisoner’s suicide.
These facilities are operated like prisons with sanctions for disciplinary infractions, and it’s not uncommon for those detained to lose years of “treatment progress” for minor violations. And until 2015, Texas made even minor rules violations into felonies.
Perhaps most disturbingly, few people are ever released from these facilities. The MSOP didn’t release anyone until 2015 and has released only 15 people since then — 88 have died while held indefinitely in these so-called civil facilities. Texas claims it has released 13 prisoners with only three deaths, but critics say the actual numbers are six releases with 29 deaths.
It is widely known among proponents of civil commitment that these programs don’t work. Psychologist Jesus Padilla’s study in 2006 revealed that those deemed “high risk” and released after “treatment” in the state’s civil commitment program reoffended at the same rate as those released without treatment/commitment. But since his research findings were inconvenient, he was silenced — his records were confiscated, his hard copies destroyed, and he was forbidden from speaking about his work.
As of June 2022, at least 20 states and the federal government operate involuntary sex offense civil commitment programs. And the heinous practice will likely continue with the blessing of the U.S. Supreme Court.
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