Exam 2 – Civil commitment/ Offender risk analysis – STATIC-99, MnSOST-R / Get-tough policies for sex offenders. (CCJ 6920 – Seminar in Theoretical Criminology).

Criminal Justice

Exam 2 – Civil commitment/ Offender risk analysis – STATIC-99, MnSOST-R / Get-tough policies for sex offenders. (CCJ 6920 – Seminar in Theoretical Criminology).

Civil commitment

Civil commitment is the process by which a person (in this case a sex offender) with deemed mental illness is made to undergo treatment as a way of reducing their rates of recidivism. The court perceives the offender as likely to be influenced by their mental incapacitation into being a danger to themselves and others. According to Mancini (2014, p. 178) the goal of civil commitment is to incapacitate offenders beyond the length of their original sentences.

Explain the policy’s theory and logic

The theory behind civil commitment is based on the perspectives of incapacitation and rehabilitation. The state uses civil commitment to bar re-entry of sex offenders at the end of their sentences as a way of protecting the public. Further, rehabilitative efforts of civil commitment are on the basis of mental programming and intervention as a way of instituting desistance from crime as offenders acquire “…social skills and learn techniques to manage their sexual urges (Mancini, 2014, p. 179).

State of research on civil commitment

According to Mancini (2014), the causal logic in civil commitment is that the state can accurately identify high- risk offenders and that exposure to treatment during the incapacitation period will lead to less likelihood to offender upon release. These two logical approaches, first, create a question of empirical basis for identifying high-risk offenders. Research supports that states can identify these ‘at-risk’ offenders. An example study is by Levenson (2004) which while examining the Jimmy Ryce Act in Florida found that diagnoses used to establish sexually violent predators in the state were accurate. The method used was statistically sound and the risk assessment equipment used were reliable. This finding by Levenson (2004) is shared among other studies such as the one by Boccaccini et. al. (2009) where STATIC-99 and Minnesota Sex Offender Sex Offender Screening Tool–Revised (MnSOST-R), two of the most applied sex offender risk tool were found to be effective in identifying shared characteristics among “high-risk” individuals for placement under civil commitment.

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There is however an equally significant concern in academia on the effectiveness of risk assessment tools in identifying the possibility of re-offending. A significant issue is the base rate problem where there is a relatively low rate of sexual offense and according to Mancini (2014), citing Abracen and Looman (2006), predictions based on base rates for instance of less than 30% would lead to wrong conclusions. This is also a problem where risk assessment tools are possibly being applied in contests where they were not mean to be (Campbell, 2007). Abracen and Looman (2006) for instance found that only a 13.3 offense rate was found in a group that had an expected rate of over 30% within a period of 5 years.

On rehabilitative capacity, Mancini (2014) notes that a gap exists in research on the type of treatment approaches that are used by states and what influence those treatment have on recidivism rates. A study by Harris et. al., (2011) which compared post-release offending behaviour between civilly committed individuals and those who underwent no commitment concluded that civil commitment was not likely to have reduced likelihood to reoffend. The state of research on civil commitment is thus limited and needs more studies in order to strengthen the theoretical basis and logical assumptions of the policy.

2) Offender risk analysis – improvement of tools/criteria

According to Mancini (2014), offender risk analysis is facilitated by the use of both clinical assessments and actuarial risk models. Some of the tools prominently used in risk assessment include Static-99/Static-2002, Stable-2007/Acute-2007, The Minnesota Sex Offender Screening Tool-Revised (MnSOST-R)/Minnesota Sex Offender Screening Tool-3 (MnSOST-3). The Juvenile Sex Offender Assessment Protocol-II (J-SOSP – II), and the Estimate of Risk of Adolescent Sexual Offence Recidivism (ERASOR). These tools, as reviewed by Mancini (2014) are both effective and limited in some ways.

Improvements that can lead to more accurate risk prediction would thus include changes to the current tools. For example, the tools that measure static offender attributes, such as the Static-99, can be combined with other tools that measure continuing offender attributes in order to account for changes that occur over time. Mancini (2014) argues that while for instance static tools could show how likely an offender would reoffend, the dynamic tools can show the timing to reoffending. Dynamic tools include for example the Sex Offender Treatment Intervention and Progress Scale (SOTIPS) which is a 16-items scale which McGrath, Lasher and Cumming (2011) found to be more accurate than Static-199.  An additional limitation is that tools are developed with certain demographic contexts and thus lack diversity. This in turn leads to inaccurate predictions when a tool is moved to be used in a different demographic. Further, risk prediction can be improved via matching of tools with offences. Mancini (2014) notes that purely using clinical tests does not for example accurately predict recidivism rates for child molesters and rapists.

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One of the problems of reliance on statistical tools for risk prediction is that data is scarce. Authors such as Kruttschnitt, Kalsbeek and House (2014) found that even databases such as the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), the FBI, and National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey will have differing statistics. The data problem is also based on the fact that over 93% of sex offenders do not reoffend as Mancini notes that only about 7% do so (Mancini, 2014, p. 207). The actuarial predictions thus remain inaccurate as long as the base rate problem, covered by Abracen and Looman (2006) continues to exist. An inherent problem with prediction approaches is also definition of terms such as ‘recidivism’ and reoffence which also contributes to lack of effective ways to do comparative research on approaches and tools. This is an issue of lack of standardization.

Problems with risk prediction approaches would negate the goal of SORNA. This is particularly on wrong categorisation of an offender as ‘high-risk’ and the subsequent effect on re-entry strategies. SORNA could thus end up further causing stigmatization and seclusion of low-risk offender who would have otherwise reformed and become productive members of the community. The result would be simply “…. higher level and intensity of public condemnation, and a greater degree of stigmatization and forfeiture of their civil liberties, than any other type of criminal offender” (Pickett, Mancini and Mears, 2013, p. 730).

Get-tough sex offender approach (criteria)

A possible get-tough approach to sex crime I would advocate for is longer sentencing with no chance of parole, chemical castration, and death penalty. Longer sentencing will deter sex offenders from coming into contact with the public in the long-term, death penalty will remove the offenders from society and as Mancini (2014, p. 263) notes based on a meta-analysis of 70 studies, castration significantly reduces the odds of recidivism. The goal would be more towards incapacitation and deterrence.

The criteria I would use is based on the extent of damage to the victims, the irreparable nature of some sex offenders, and the logic of shielding the society from risk posed by sex offenders. On the first criterion, damage to victims, it the justification would be that vile and violent acts by offenders needs to be punished as a consolation to the victims of these crimes. Pickett, Mancini and Mears (2013, p.731) highlight this perspective noting how the general society in the US feels that sex offenders should particularly be on the receiving end of punitive justice. Similarly, even the SORNA tiered categorizations explained by Mancini (2013) that some sex crimes are graver than others – in which case I think they would deserve more punishment.

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On the second criterion, longer sentencing for instance keeps offenders who are irreparable away from society. This is following research such as that by Harris et. al., (2011) which found that sex offenders who had undergone civil commitment (a treatment option) did not have lower chances of recidivism than those who did not – which I believe suggests that some offenders are simply irredeemable. Lastly, shielding the society from offenders is a utilitarian argument that is explained by Pickett, Mancini and Mears (2013, p.731) where it is the right thing to do to keep the majority of society from the risk of sex offenders.

In critique of the get-tough approach, first, is that seeking justice to victims such as through castration of offenders is a limited view of sex offending in general since Mancini (2014, p. 184) notes that over 70% of sex offences were classified as sexual assaults which is much broader. Second, emotive justice – following how the public views sex offenders – and extreme forms of punishment outside the law often ignore constitutional rights of offenders (Pickett, Mancini and Mears, 2013; Mancini, 2014). Lastly, locking up offenders for extended periods – however long – would not change the fact that their sentences would come to an end and they will come back to society either further damaged or with the same propensity to crime as before they were prosecuted and convicted.

Procedural and distributive justice would be more effective. I generally believe that the US is predisposed to be bloodthirsty on issues of crime and punishment and so I think invoking the 8th amendment constitutional rights and its appeals to the “good side” of our vindictive selves as a society is important. A case example is the rehabilitative model of civil commitment, as provisioned by law, where sex offenders at high-risk of offending are given an opportunity to reform and become productive members of society upon re-entry (Mancini, 2014).

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