Curious Rehabilitation: Assessing Risk and Treatment in Sex Offender Civil Commitment

Karol Lucken, University of Central Florida
William D. Bales, Florida State University

Sex offender civil commitment (SOCC), which has been implemented in sixteen states, represents the most vigilant of sexual violence interventions to date. SOCC embodies the extremes of treatment and surveillance, by subjecting offenders to the repercussions of the prison and the mental health system when commitment to prison alone has been the presumptive sentence for offenders deemed competnent to stand trial. Based on the assumption that certain sex offenders are different from non-sexual offenders and other sex offenders (i.e., more recidivistic), and that the factors accounting for this difference can be readily identified, SOCC calls for indeterminate custody in a mental health facility following prison incarceration. The success of SOCC, then, depends on two [presumably antihetical] conventions of criminal justice practice, namely risk assessment and treatment. Despite the weighty costs associated with SOCC--in Minnesota the total cost of the commitment law has exceeded $15.5 million--little is known about the operational processes and effectiveness of SOCC. Using Florida as a study site, this paper examines the nature of treatment in the civil custody setting and whether the risk assessment process associated with entry into and exit from civil commitment is specific and sensitive enough to justify release or continued custody.

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Updated 05/20/2006