Aug 11, 2011

Consenting to Confinement: Sex Offenders Overwhelmingly Waiving Their Right to Trial Before Civil Confinement

This week's New York Law Journal reports that nearly 92 percent of sex offenders civilly confined following the completion of their prison sentence have waived their right to trial since the passage of the Sex Offender Management and Treatment Act, thereby consenting to indefinite confinement.

Under the Sex Offender Management and Treatment Act, which took effect in 2007, upon completion of a criminal sentence, the state can continue confining a sex offender upon proof of "clear and convincing evidence" (a high legal standard) that the individual suffers from a "mental abnormality" that predisposes him or her to commit sex crimes. The respondent has the right to a  jury trial and a unanimous verdict is required for confinement.

Although 20% of individuals who were confined for a sex offense win at trial (and are therefore released to parole or set free), most are opting to remain confined.  The question is why? Officials have been very surprised by the choice to forgo trial since the worst outcome of trial is confinement.

Attorneys who represent clients in civil confinement cases say that many sex offenders know the great barriers to reentry they will confront upon release. Residency restrictions forbid them from living in many areas and many housing providers exclude sex offenders from transitional housing. For example, in New York City, if the offender an is under parole or probation supervision, the individual may not live within 1,000 feet of a school or other facility caring for children. Getting a job is no less of a feat. With no social safety net,  former sex offenders fear they will end up homeless and marginalized. 

Dr. Wulfert, Professor of Psychology suggests that "many offenders assume confinement is inevitable, and some may realize they cannot control their impulses, do not trust themselves, and genuinely do not want to reoffend....They may also want to avoid more humiliation..."

Others suggest that consenting to confinement may be a "strategic move" hoping that "if they readily admit they have a problem the courts may be more receptive to releasing them in a year or so when they come up for mandatory annual review."