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January 11, 2004
It's Not Difficult At All

The Star Tribune asks the wrong question in a featured article today about the disposition of released, high-risk sex offenders, titled "Is it too hard to commit dangerous sex offenders?" The case of Alfonso Rodriguez, who allegedly kidnapped the still-missing Dru Sjodin last year, has made the question of civil commitment for high-risk sex offenders a hot topic in Minnesota:

The Rodriguez case has horrified the public, putting the commitment process under the spotlight and making it an explosive political issue. The public attention prompted the Corrections Department to send 145 new commitment cases to county attorneys for review. If, as expected, that review increases the number of sex offenders who are committed, taxpayers will have to pay millions more every year for their treatment in secure psychiatric facilities.

There are now some 200 sex offenders held at secure psychiatric facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter. Each costs state taxpayers more than $300 per day -- three times as much as an inmate in prison. In all, the state spends nearly $20 million a year on the sex-offender treatment program. Lowering the standard for who should be committed could also raise new constitutional questions about indefinitely confining people because they might commit a crime, lawyers say.

It turns out that the state of Minnesota has released more than 50 of the highest-risk sex offenders in the last four years without referring them to civil commitment, a controversial process where the state declares an inmate too dangerous to release and commits him to a mental facility indefinitely. The civil-commitment process costs a great deal in court time, psychiatric evaluations, and second-guessing the true danger of each individual.

But that really isn't the issue. The solution to the entire problem is to lock people up for life after committing serious sexual offenses. Alfonso Rodriguez had already sexually assaulted at least three women, kidnapping two of them, when he was convicted for his last offense. Instead of getting a life sentence, Rodriguez served his full sentence of twenty-three years, and because he served the entire sentence, he wasn't required to report to a parole officer after his release or fulfill any counseling requirements. A mere six months after his release, Dru Sjodin disappeared, leaving traces of blood in Rodriguez's car, and she hasn't been heard from since.

People who claim that life sentences for sexual assault is overkill ignore the high recidivist rate of the people who commit serious sexual offenses, known as Level 3 offenders:

The test used by corrections officials predicts that of offenders who score 8 or higher, 57 percent will commit another sex crime. Such a score makes it likely that when they approach the end of their sentences corrections officials will put them into the high-risk category -- level 3. Among those who score a 13 or more, 72 percent are predicted to commit another sex crime. Rodriguez scored 13.

Penal philosophy in our country has evolved into a debate between two approaches -- punishment vs. rehabilitation -- when in fact the most important component is protection for society. We lock murderers away for life without parole because once someone has deliberately killed another human being, society cannot trust them not to break that taboo again. However, the recidivism of murder is a lot lower than sexual assault, and sex offenders get progressively more violent. Look at Rodriguez as an example. His last conviction didn't teach him not to offend; it taught him to get rid of the witness, a lesson that may keep him from being convicted this time.

In releasing these people back into society, all we are doing is giving them the opportunity to find more victims, offering up our wives, sisters, and daughters as sacrifices to an ideal of rehabilitation that bears little semblance to reality. It's time to take action to keep these predators off of our streets permanently once they've been identified through their own actions, and stop trusting a civil-commitment process that fails to protect us more often than not. Violent sex offenders should never be allowed out of prison, and that removes all the difficulty described in this article.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 11, 2004 10:50 AM

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