Jacob Sullum

Minnesota, with more civilly committed sex offenders per capita than any other state, has a similarly dismal record, even though it spends $120,000 a year to detain each of those "patients," three times the cost of keeping someone in prison. Last week, in a ruling that allowed a lawsuit challenging the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) to proceed, U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank noted that "no civilly committed sex offender has ever been discharged." Assuming the facts alleged by the plaintiffs are true, he said, "it appears that MSOP may very well be serving the constitutionally impermissible purposes of retribution and deterrence."

Some states have better records. But overall, as you might expect given the incentives involved, civilly committed sex offenders are almost never deemed to be "cured," and so they are almost never released.

In Kansas v. Hendricks, the Supreme Court emphasized that a sex offender could be committed only if he suffered from a "mental abnormality" or "personality disorder" that undermined self-control, justifying "a prediction of future dangerousness." But according to Justice Department data, most prisoners have "mental health problems," and many of them surely have behaved in ways that would make a "prediction of future dangerousness" plausible.

Is that all it takes to lose your freedom forever? If so, the idea that people should be imprisoned only for crimes they have committed, as opposed to crimes they might commit in the future, may one day seem positively quaint.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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