There are more than 6,300 sex offenders detained in state and federal civil commitment programs in the United States, according to a new study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. Results from states for which data were obtained show disparities in how the laws are applied. Black sex offenders were twice as likely as White sex offenders to be civilly committed. In addition, men with male victims were 2 to 3 times more likely to be civilly committed than men with only female victims.
Twenty states, the federal government, and the District of Columbia have laws that allow for the indefinite detention of sex offenders designated as a "Sexually Violent Person" or "Sexually Violent Predator" ( SVP ) beyond the term of their incarceration. To confine a person under an SVP law, the defendant must have been charged with a sexual offense, have a "mental disorder" or "abnormality," and be likely to commit sexually violent acts in the future.
"Inherent biases lead to disparities in civil commitments between sexual minority and heterosexual men. Overly broad terms like "mental disorder" and "abnormality" have no medical meaning, and they could be used to characterize sexual minority people as mentally ill when they engage in a sexual practice perceived to be deviant," said study author Ilan H. Meyer, Distinguished Scholar of Public Policy at the Williams Institute. "In addition, men with a same-sex victim are judged as more violent on the standard assessment tool used to determine SVP."
Thousands of people are in civil commitment in the United States even after serving their jail or prison terms. There are over 6,300 people detained in the 20 state, federal, and D.C. civil commitment programs.
In most states, Black men were vastly overrepresented among the population of civilly committed persons. Based on data from 13 states with reliable data, Black men faced a rate of SVP detention more than twice that of White men: 7.72 per 100,000 Black residents as compared with 3.11 per 100,000 White residents aged sixteen or older.
Sexual minority men are disproportionately detained in sex offense civil commitment facilities. In the two states with reliable data about the sex of the victim, New York and Texas, men who had male victims were 2 to 3 times as likely to be civilly committed than men with only female victims. This trend was consistent among Black, White, and Hispanic men.
"These findings reveal that gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men face much higher rates of civil commitment than their heterosexual counterparts. This suggests that state authorities deem queer men to be more violent more dangerous or mentally ill, and more deserving of commitment under these laws," said lead author Trevor Hoppe, assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. "It is also vital that state programs consider biases that may contribute to higher rates of commitment that we observed among Black and sexual minority men."
Read the report at williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/publications/civil-commitment-us/ .
The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, a think tank on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy, is dedicated to conducting rigorous, independent research with real-world relevance.