Commentary by Maryland Senator Roy Dyson
On May 17, in a 7-2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Congress had the constitutional power to authorize holding sex offenders after they had served their prison terms. In other words, the Supreme Court says "Yes" to civil commitment for sex offenders.
Last year, Virginia's law authorizing federal prisons to hold sex offenders who are deemed to be dangerous was struck down by a federal appeals court. The ruling said that Congress has exceeded its authority in passing that part of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, which allows the government to continue to detain prisoners who has engaged in sexually violent conduct, suffered from mental illness and would have difficulty controlling themselves.
Fifteen years ago, the Supreme Court upheld the Kansas law that allowed dangerous sex offenders to be committed to a mental institution after they served their prison sentence and until they were judged to be no threat to public safety by mental health experts. In its ruling, the Court said that under the state's civil commitment law, the offenders were being treated and not being subjected to preventive incarceration. Nineteen states, including neighboring Virginia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have civil commitment laws. The Court ruled that the constitution gives this same power to the federal government. Former state Attorney General, J. Joseph Curran, who chairs a commission examining Maryland's sex offender laws, said the court decision will certainly re-enforce what states are already doing in adopting civil commitment laws.
During the 2010 General Assembly, the civil commitment law was considered and rejected. Instead, the legislature approved a law to provide lifetime supervision for the more dangerous sex offenders.
Sadly, it has been proven that registering child sex offenders and monitoring them for life offers little protection for our children. Keeping these predators off our streets and out of our communities is the only certain way to protect our children from them. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, the average sex offender commits a dozen offenses before being caught and 80% of them re-offend. Being registered on both the Maryland sex registry and the Delaware sex registry as "dangerous" gave 11-year old Sarah Foxwell no protection from Thomas J. Leggs, Jr., her alleged rapist and killer. Her brutalized body was found on Christmas day 2009 on the Eastern Shore.
The former director of Patuxent Institute, B. Rosenblatt has stated that sex offenders are untreatable and forever repeat their conduct. Patuxent Institute houses convicted criminals for indeterminate sentences and are released only when considered no threat to public safety by mental health experts.
All too often when we read about a rape and murder of a child, we find that the killer was previously convicted of a sex offense against a child. Why do we have to wait until a known and dangerous sex offender murders a child to get him off the streets permanently? Even at that point, there is no assurance that he will be imprisoned until he is judged no longer dangerous. I strongly favor passage of a civil commitment law in Maryland.