A few days ago the British newspaper the Guardian reported on a case in which a man, Roger Giese, who was to be charged in the United States for allegedly abusing a boy in his care had fled to England to avoid a trial, and the U.S. government asked England to extradite the man back to the U.S. for trial. Apparently the British judges overseeing the case on their end have decided to refuse the extradition order on the grounds that the man could face civil commitment if convicted in the United States. This is very interesting indeed.
First off, let me state for the record that, if he did abuse the boy, he should be punished. But I agree with the judges’ decision here because they’re right—the civil commitment process in the U.S. is a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, and given that Giese is on European soil, he is covered by the Convention. Not only that, but civil commitment as currently practiced in the U.S. is a clear violation of our own Constitution’s due process clause in the Bill of Rights.
The fact that this violation has persisted for as long as it has demonstrates how little the American justice system actually cares about the rights of pedophiles and sex offenders. Even murderers are generally given fair treatment here, but indefinitely locking someone up once they’ve served their sentence is cruel and technically illegal, unless it can be proven without a doubt that they truly are a danger to themselves or to others, which is almost never the case. In fact, sex offenders on the whole have the lowest recidivism rates of all classes of criminal.
Civil commitment is not only wrong, it’s expensive. The cost of holding people indefinitely beyond their sentence has taken a massive toll on the budgets of the states where it has been most widely implemented (1, 2, 3). Despite this, and the fact that there is little evidence that civil commitment is actually offering sex offenders viable treatment, it remains popular with get-tough politicians and fearful citizens who just want the problem to go away.
Thus, the British judges who insist on assuring that Giese is not indefinitely detained after his sentence is complete are right to do so, and I commend them for standing up for principles rather than simply catering to the popular trend.