Sex offender civil commitment (SOCC) is an intervention intended to be reserved for those who present exceptional risk for re-offense due to mental condition(s). Contemporary SOCC laws provide for the involuntary commitment of individuals postcriminal sentence. Currently, 21 U.S. jurisdictions (20 states, plus the federal government) have laws permitting the civil commitment of individuals who have sexually offended and have mental conditions, and present an exceptional risk to recidivate. During 2020, there were approximately 5,362 individuals civilly committed pursuant to U.S. SOCC statutes (Herbert et al., 2020).

To Learn more about ATSA's recommendations regarding SOCC please refer to the documents in the Position & Policy Statements below.

Fact 1: Civil commitment is an involuntary process.

Civil commitment is the process of involuntarily committing someone into an institution for the treatment of a mental health issue. Approximately 20 U.S. states have enacted laws permitting the civil commitment of sexual offenders.

Fact 2: Civil commitment is a preventive action.

Civil commitment of sexual offenders provides a legal mechanism for the confinement of individuals convicted of sexual crimes. Offenders are placed in a secure treatment facility after incarceration if a court determines the individual is likely to engage in future acts of sexual violence.

Fact 3: Individuals who have sexually offended and are placed in civil commitment must meet specific criteria.

To meet the criteria for commitment, a person must have committed a qualifying sexual offense and suffer from a qualifying mental disorder, and the mental disorder must create a high probability that the individual will commit acts of sexual violence in the future. Definitions of qualifying crimes and mental health disorders vary among jurisdictions.

Fact 4: Civil commitment is controversial.

Supporters of civil commitment argue that such provisions offer an important community safeguard by incapacitating a high-risk subgroup of sex offenders. Opponents note that many civil commitment programs release very few sexual offenders, even after they successfully complete treatment, and question whether individuals’ civil rights are being violated by indefinite detainment. This discussion continues, and raises important issues about how to balance community safety and civil rights.

Related Topics