Working Paper No. 08-22:
The Constitutionality of Civil Commitment and the Requirement of Adequate Treatment

Author(s):

Douglas Smith

Date Posted: April 2008

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Abstract:

This article addresses the constitutional concerns and costs and benefits associated with civil commitment for sexually violent predators.  In particular, it focuses on Washington’s civil commitment program, the oldest such program in existence in the United States and, indeed, the only program in the nation in which the constitutional parameters of the treatment program have been fully litigated.  From the outset, Washington’s civil commitment program has been the subject of significant litigation and in large measure that litigation has defined the scope of the constitutional rights of civilly committed individuals to constitutionally adequate treatment.  At the same time it has demonstrated many of the problems associated with such programs and provides an important case study in assessing their costs and benefits.  The article concludes that, in addition to the potential constitutional concerns regarding civil commitment, the costs of civil commitment appear to outweigh its benefits and that increasing criminal penalties for crimes of sexual violence may be a superior alternative.