They Served Their Sentences. Now They Want To Know When They Can Go Home.

Programs that keep sex offenders indefinitely confined face new challenges.

Reason.com | J.D. TUCCILLE; Mar. 31, 2021 7:00 AM

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Sold as a means of giving potentially dangerous sex offenders treatment for their conditions while indefinitely confining them, civil commitment programs invite skepticism about their motivation and effectiveness. While courts have signed off on the practice, keeping people locked up after they’ve served their prison sentences raises sticky legal and ethical questions.

Now a lawsuit and a recent hunger strike by Minnesota prisoners offers new opportunities to reconsider and reform the practice.

At the end of February, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit gave the green light to a lawsuit challenging Minnesota’s civil commitment program for sex offenders. Importantly, the court allowed the plaintiffs to argue that civil commitment as practiced in the state is punitive in nature—something that’s not permitted of a supposedly therapeutic program. 

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