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US should be able to hold sex offenders indefinitely

A stranger sexually abused Martin Andrews when he was just 13 years old. His abuser, Richard Ausley, held the boy for eight days until police found him chained inside a box.

Ausley was held in custody under the civil commitment law, which allows the government to hold sex offenders in custody even after they’ve completed their prison sentences.

The U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing these civil commitment laws.  The decision to implement them has been left to the states, but it should be transferred to the federal level.

In 2006, former President George W. Bush signed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which allowed civil commitment to be decided by each state. The act also established a national sex-offender registry and strengthened child-pornography laws.

The nation’s highest court should uphold the law.

Five men who are being held in a North Carolina treatment facility are challenging civil commitment laws. These sexual offenders argue that the laws should only be used for those who are mentally ill. 

In Tuesday’s hearing of the U.S. vs. Comstock case, Court Solicitor General Elena Kagan said this law is needed “to run a criminal justice system that does not itself endanger the public.”

The Court is somewhat divided on the issue. Justice Antonin Scalia is concerned that passing this law would intrude on state powers. According to Business Week, Scalia suggested that the federal government should notify the states when a “sexually dangerous” person is about to finish his or her sentence. 

The state can then start the commitment proceedings, which usually entail indefinite confinement to a mental hospital or treatment center.

However, the problem with Scalia’s suggestion is that many states do not have civil commitment laws. Once criminals complete their prison sentences, there’s a chance they could commit additional offenses upon release. Taking preventative steps — such as civil commitment — would insure better protection for potential victims.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in the hearing, “You are talking about endangering the health and safety of people. The government has some responsibility, doesn’t it?”

Civil commitment facilities will help these offenders. Those who commit such horrific acts need counseling, which the government should provide.

Congress should mandate civil commitment if that means better protection for children. This should be a collaborative effort by both federal and state governments to make sure convicted sexual offenders never touch another child again.

Xhenis Berberi is a senior majoring in political science and economics.