March 19, 2007

Here's What Governor Spitzer Should Do With The Pedophiles: Send Them To Cuba

So Spitzer, et al have passed a law that allows  courts to involuntarily commit sex offenders to psychiatric hospitals until they are "no longer" dangerous-- even if they have not actually committed a crime, or have served their sentence. 

Said Spitzer:

 "...protecting the public from those individuals whose mental abnormalities cause them to make sexual attacks on others."

"Mental abnormalities?"  That they are bad people I can see; but what, precisely, is the nature of this mental abnormality?  And it "causes" violence?  Causes? 

The ACLU of course opposes such an obvious violation of civil liberties-- but they make the same mistake:

"...locking someone up indefinitely because he has a mental abnormality and may commit a crime in the future creates a constitutional nightmare," said Bob Perry of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

"...because he has a mental abnormality."  Why the qualification?  Is that relevant?  And why does everyone agree that there is a "mental abnormality?"

Blame Kansas v. Hendricks, the 1997 decision in which it was decided that dangerousness + a "mental abnormality" is sufficient to involuntarily commit someone (in that case, a violent pedophile) indefinitely-- even after he has already served his sentence.  Here's the trick: there would be no other justification for this violation of substantive due process except some mental abnormality that forces you to do things. The only way we can justify indefinitely locking up pedophiles is to call them psychiatric patients.

What's a "mental abnormality," exactly?  The Court left the definition up to the states, but it suggests some dangerous synonyms, like  "personality disorder." 

Here's another: mental retardation.  Is mental retardation-- now a exclusion for execution-- sufficient for indefinite civil commitment?  They're not going to get better, are they?

There are two main problems with this law.  The first is constitutional: you simply cannot lock up a person, indefinitely, unless they committed a crime. 

Exactly what is the difference between the Guantanamo terror suspects and pedophiles incarcerated further after their sentence has been completed?  Both are being held under the (likely accurate) presumption they're going to cause trouble in the future.  Both are driven by an inner and virtually unalterable desperation to commit their respective offenses.  Hell, you can even use the same battery of questions to screen for both ("God has given you an odd gift: a schoolbus full of docile 8 year olds.  What do you do?")  And both are equally explained and treated by modern medicine and psychiatry (i.e. not at all.)

At least the Guantanamo detainees are not U.S. citizens-- they are not entitled to our constitutional rights.  For better or worse, American pedophiles are.

If you are against one, you're against both.  They're the same. 

The law's second problem is social and categorical: these laws interpret certain violent behaviors as psychiatric in nature, without any scientific or even descriptive basis.   In other words, it medicalizes behavior simply because it does not know what else to do with it.  It says, "only someone whacked out of their skull would be a pedophile."

And some will say, and what do you expect from a culture that so sexualizes youth?  Actually,  humanity has been sexualizing its youth for thousands of years; it's only in modern times that we've placed an absolute prohibition on acting on it.  As I recall, teens getting married was the norm in the Renaissance; the ancient Greeks had institutionalized a form of pederasty-for-education trade.

I bring this up not to justify having sex with kids (duh), but to show that it is quite obviously not a psychiatric disorder.  It is a crime that you choose to commit.

There is too much emotion around sexual predators, and it confuses the issues.  For example, why do we register them?  We don't register serial killers, con artists, unabombers, etc.  The argument, "well, wouldn't you want to know if a sex offender was living in your neighborhood?" isn't valid: I assume everyone is a sex offender. Seriously.  Especially around my kids.  And wouldn't you want to know the Zodiac killer moved in?

Don't misinterpret my support of civil liberties as permissiveness; if you're really worried that a sex offender will offend again, make his criminal sentence longer, harsher. If society wants  to make pedophilia a capital offense, fine.  But for the love of God, don't turn sex offenders over to the psychiatrists, the two have nothing to do with each other.  You may as well send them to the sociologists, they have about as much to do with them.

This is an extremely bad law, and by bad I mean bad for everyone except the bad guys.  It sets up the argument that certain "behaviors" are so a part of one's identity that they cannot be altered or prevented, and therefore culpability is reduced while dangerousness is magnified.  It allows the government yet another avenue to lock people up without crime.  And worst of all, the penultimate decision about who should be locked up for society's benefit is made by the absolute worst group to make this decision: psychiatrists.  Psychiatry becomes a tool of the state.

The last major country that ran this way was the USSR.  But things are different now, I know.  I know.




Are we going to lock up eve... (Below threshold)

March 21, 2007 6:31 PM | Posted by AK: | Reply

Are we going to lock up every problem drinker on the assumption that he or she just might, someday just might, have one too many and drive dangerously and kill someone?

If anyone proposed that the way to prevent drunk driving is to incarcerate anyone known to drink to excess we'd all agree that's nuts.

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Thank you for putting so we... (Below threshold)

March 21, 2007 6:54 PM | Posted by Alison: | Reply

Thank you for putting so well what I have been thinking and saying for some time. I have never understood why I can't know about the murderer who got off with 3 years (recent case in my state) who moves next door when I can look up online every one convicted of a sexual offense in my state.

This also just contributes to the ongoing increase in prejudice against people with actual psychiatric problems in the U.S. Between those lobbying for forced outpatient commitment using isolated instances of violence to pushc their cause and those who refuse to call bad behavior bad behavior and think they are being enlightened and liberal by calling it a sickness, we have lost major ground in the public's opinion of people with psychiatric illnesses in the last few decades.

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Alison, I completely agree.... (Below threshold)

March 23, 2007 1:24 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Alison, I completely agree. I also think it's incredibly sick to put sex offenders in the same facility with people who are suffering BECAUSE of sexual abuse. Basically, what it says to those who have been abused is You are the same as a sex offender. What kind of message is that?

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I was thinking the same thi... (Below threshold)

March 24, 2007 4:32 PM | Posted by bipolarworks: | Reply

I was thinking the same thing. As an extremely vulnerable psychiatric patient, I would not want to be locked up with a paedophile. The UK Government has been trying to implement a similar law. So far the House of Lords has rejected this and the mental health organisations have been successful at lobbying against it.

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Recidivism rates are horrid... (Below threshold)

April 30, 2007 10:52 PM | Posted by Tim: | Reply

Recidivism rates are horridly high, rarely are pedophiles caught on first offense.

They should either lock them up and throw away the key, or kill them. What is exactly the point of wasting tax payer money on pedophiles who are multiple offenders?

(Admin's response:) again, let me emphasize that if you want to make the sentences harsher, it's fine by me. What I'm against is locking people up before they commit a crime. Make the sentence fit the crime. If you think it's worth locking them up before they even commit a crime, why not lock them up for longer once they have?

Kansas v. Hendricks basicaly allows a life sentence for a crime; so why not simply make it a life sentence?

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Recidivism rates for pedoph... (Below threshold)

May 8, 2007 1:28 PM | Posted by Mark: | Reply

Recidivism rates for pedophiles are not horridly high, and are in fact among the lowest of offense types (granted these are for those that are caught). Those who go are incarcerated for property and drug offenses typically have the highest recidivism rates (but if you end up in prison, you probably have a range of charges from several offense types). By the logic of premptive incarceration, these are the guys who should be incarcerated first as they are the most likely to reoffend based on risk assessment. I am betting that many prisoners would also be diagnosed with antisocial behavioral disorder; does this count as something inner and inert?

I would reccomend looking at the piece in the recent issue of Justice Research & Policy on residential restrictions for sex offenders (it's almost illegal to live anywhere in Orange County, Florida due to buffer zones in urban areas). My question is when are communities going to start using these laws to drive out sex offenders (i.e. we can't force him out by intimidation, but if we build a park or bus stop a block from him he will have to move).

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what can i do about the ped... (Below threshold)

April 10, 2008 1:55 PM | Posted by anne: | Reply

what can i do about the pedophile i know?

i dont want him killed

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