It's called "civil commitment," and it applies to sex offenders who are deemed dangerous, even if they haven't committed other sex crimes yet. The problems with the program (apart from the obvious constitutional and civil liberties ones) are numerous, and they are detailed in this excellent, Minority Report-evoking investigative piece from USA Today that we missed last week. It covers the shortcomings of the federal civil commitment program (and many states have their own similar programs,which are not detailed in the article).
Six years ago, the federal government set out to indefinitely detain some of the nation's most dangerous sex offenders, keeping them locked up even after their prison sentences had ended.
But despite years of effort, the government has so far won court approval for detaining just 15 men.
Far more often, men the U.S. Justice Department branded as "sexually dangerous" predators remained imprisoned here for years without a mandatory court hearing before the government was forced to let them go, a USA TODAY investigation has found. The Justice Department has either lost or dropped its cases against 61 of the 136 men it sought to detain. Some were imprisoned for more than four years without a trial before they were freed.
Dozens of others are still waiting for their day in court. They remain in a prison unit where authorities and former detainees said explicit drawings of children are commonplace, but where few of the men have received any treatment for the disorders that put them there.
Despite that, neither the Justice Department nor other watchdog agencies have offered any public assessment of how well the federal civil commitment law works.To those who say, "Oh, they're just sex offenders -- they should be imprisoned for life, or shot and killed!", we offer this scary reminder: this system applies to all of us. It could be me, you, or one of our kids who ends up on the wrong side of the law. And the list of sex offenses doesn't just include things like raping a child. In many places it now includes sexting (teens sending nude photos of themselves on cell phones), mere possession (not production) of child pornography, or Romeo-and-Juliet cases (consensual sex when one of the parties is deemed too young, like 15, and the other is deemed too old, like 19). It's easy to hear the frightening "sex offender" label and rush to judgment. As with all decisions about who goes to prison and for how long, what we need are individualized assessments that are based on reason and evidence, not just fear, from decision-makers who can be held accountable to the public.