Civil commitment is a legal process typically introduced into society for the mentally ill, or those individuals whom the Court or other professionals believe are a danger to themselves or others. Society realizes that, at times, an individual may pose a danger to themselves or to society and be unable to make rational decisions. In fact, in most jurisdictions in the modern world, involuntary commitment procedures are specifically applied to individuals who have manifested some form of serious mental illness that acts to impair their reasoning to such extent that they are unable to make cogent and logical decisions. Therefore, at these times the state (the Court system) must intercede to find ways to make the appropriate decisions under a legal template. Involuntary commitment may have, in the past, been used in certain situations, inappropriately, but the statutory criteria that indicates one is a danger to self or others usually acts as a legal axiom (Korba, 2008).
Following a series of violent sexual assaults in the 1980s, many states commissioned a special task force to review various aspects of state law that permitted the release of sex offenders. In many states, this results in Community Protection acts that do some of the following:
Change and increase criminal sentencing for convicted sex offenders
Institute certain registration and notification statues regarding convicted offenders
A special "End of Sentence" Review Committee that is designed to make recommendations regarding offenders prior to their release
The formation of civil commitment laws to confine and provide treatment for individuals deemed to be sexual violent predators
Essentially, during the civil commitment stage of the offender's sentence, a judge or jury must legally determine whether, beyond a reasonable doubt, the person meets the definition of a sexually violent predator. If this is so determined, then the person will be civilly committed to a special Commitment Center for control, care and treatment until the person's condition has drastically changed or release to a less restrictive environment is in the best interests of both the person and the community. The offender must also be willing to comply with treatment procedures and supervision requirements as well. They do not give up their rights, however, and have an annual review by a Court or jury (Department of Corrections, 2012).
Argument- This may, to some, seem draconian, but it is in the best interest of society since there are variations in sentencing, time off for good behavior, and the ability of the penal system to release a convicted sex offender into the community without being certain of their cure or rehabilitation. Prison confines the felon, it does not require psychological rehabilitation or, in the case of a sex offender, that the same issues that motivated them continue to be a driving force within their personality. In fact, in a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress has the authority under the Constitution to allow for continued civil commitment of sex offenders even after they have completed their criminal sentences. At issue, of course, is that the states, acting under federal authority, need to prove conclusively that the individual is a current danger to society. Judge Samuel Alito summed this up by indicating that civil commitment does indeed pass Constitutional tests, "Just as it is necessary and proper for Congress to provide for the apprehension of escaped federal prisoners, it is necessary and proper for Congress to provide for the civil commitment of dangerous federal prisoners who would otherwise escape civil commitment as a result of federal imprisonment" (Liptak, 2010).
Definitions - At least 20 of the 50 states have active civil commitment procedures in place. The overriding definition is that the person must have a "sexual psychopathic personality" and be a "sexually dangerous person." This is defined as a person who has and continues to engage in sexual misconduct, has no power to control their inappropriate sexual impulses and is dangerous to other persons because of their inability to control behavior of which they have been made aware is illegal or unwarranted. However, even if a person's behavior does not rise to the seriousness of the level of a sexual psychopathic personality, they may be determined to be dangerous if the state can show that they have or continue to engage in a course of harmful sexual conduct that creates a likelihood of serious physical or emotional harm to another, that person has been diagnosed by at least two concurring professionals as having a sexual, personality or mental disorder, or, the person shows signs of engaging in harmful sexual conduct in the future (e.g. offending is likely) (Sex Offender Civil Commitment Fact Sheet, 2004).
Ethical Justification- There are not only legal and safety issues involved in debating the issues surrounding civil commitment. Of course, in any penal population, there are varying degrees of socio-pathology and deviant behavior. Not everyone who has offended will reoffend; yet the statistics remain high that sexual predation is one of the most difficult criminal habits to complete remove from the system. In fact, one approach that society might consider is attaching riders on the commitment of the offender to a work release program, proving that they want to design and work with professionals to mitigate their issue. This moral philosophy comes down to the central argument of whether society adopts the notion of utilitarianism as its central value. However, if we adopt the idea that the study of ethics asks fundamental human questions about what is right and wrong, then we see that it is appropriate for an auto mechanic, a day trader, certainly the managers of the former Enron, as well as politicians. We teach children in school and religious institutions that there are rules they must follow in order to me part of society (from Civil Law to the Ten Commandments). But, do we teach critical thinking enough to understand the development of those laws, and the ability to question the morality and ethics of law, official behavior, or even why it is necessary to understand how to go about understanding whether something is generally right, or generally wrong. Studying ethics helps us understand that there are very few absolutes in the world, that behaviors can be situational, and that a rule-based system is problematical for at least three reasons: 1) Not all laws are moral, nor are all lawmakers; 2) even if there could be a complete set of rules for every occasion, how would one know where and when to apply them each and every time? And, 3) If one adopts a rule-based system, one is bound by that rule, even if it doesn't apply to the particular situation in question.
Utilitarianism as a branch of moral theory has been part of moral arguments since the Ancient world. At the center of the debate is the idea about "good" and "appropriate" being at the whim of a particular society or ruling elite. Locke, Kant, Aquinas, Aristotle, Socrates and even modern personages such as Martin Luther King, Junior all argued utilitarian principles (McIntyre, 2006). Let us say, for instance that a Police Captain is managing a situation in which a sniper is in a building in a downtown urban area -- shooting passersby at random. The police have cornered the shooter and have their own sharpshooters ready for a kill shot. However, the shooter grabbed a child and is using her as a human shield. Do you authorize your own snipers to take a shot, knowing there is a chance of killing the child; or wait and risk the shooter killing more pedestrians? Certainly, the human shield did not "wish" to die, but then neither did the hundreds of potential victims on the street and in office buildings surrounding the shooter. If you take a utilitarian approach you give the order to shoot and hope the child is missed -- if you take the deontological approach you hold that child's one life in the same reverence as the public's good (Atkinson, 2006).
Obviously, neither answer is completely right nor wrong -- but situation ally dependent. What if, for instance, the child will grow up to discover the cure for cancer and thus save millions of people? However, what if the person who might be the next President and develop a global peace accord is in the building across from the shooter giving a presentation and is randomly shot? By studying the concept of ethics, one can more easily use a process of logic and a background in moral philosophy that will help make better decisions in the long run. Thus, is civil commitment better for society because, in the larger view, there are more potential victims than potential offenders. These victims must be protected adequately from harm, and must also be allowed to actualize. Living in an environment in which one had to constantly be afraid deprives innocent people of their rights, and allows special rights for convicted offenders.