Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R,C,I-Smithtown) was joined by fellow Assembly minority members and Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro at a press conference in Albany to call for immediate action on civil confinement legislation that would keep dangerous sex offenders in secure facilities if they are deemed to pose a continued threat to society.
"The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on its constitutionality and 16 states have a civil confinement law in place," said Fitzpatrick. "Since 1993, my minority colleagues have tried to address the problems that repeat violent sexual predators pose to society. Yet, in 2004, civil confinement legislation died in a majority-controlled committee, unable to make it to the floor for meaningful debate."
If, upon evaluation at the time of their release, there are significant reasons to believe that convicted sexual predators may strike again, civil confinement would allow judges to order the worst sex offenders to be held in a secure facility beyond their prison release dates.
Citing a state Department of Corrections report, the assemblyman noted, a nine-year study showed that 49 percent of sex offenders returned to prison for a violation of parole or for committing a new crime. Also, a survey of incarcerated sex offenders indicated that about two-thirds of them committed their crimes against children under the age of 18, with about 58 percent of the victims being under age 13.
Fitzpatrick noted that 16 states, including New Jersey and Massachusetts, have laws allowing state officials to initiate an involuntary commitment process against convicted sex offenders after they have served their sentences. Typically, a judge or jury must find the offender "sexually violent" or "sexually dangerous" within the state’s definition of the term.
On three separate occasions, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that civil confinement laws are constitutional. In 1997, the court ruled that sexual offenders deemed incorrigible can be held indefinitely in mental hospitals despite having served their full prison sentences. In 2001, the court ruled that civil confinement is civil in nature and did not violate the Constitution’s "double jeopardy" clause. In 2002, the court clarified the criteria states must meet to commit sexual predators, stating they must prove that offenders have "serious difficulty" controlling their violent behavior.
The assemblyman noted that the Assembly minority has introduced civil confinement legislation since 1993 that has either been ignored or blocked by the majority, most recently by the Mental Health Committee in 2003.