Sex Offenders: Does New Supreme Court Ruling Violate Their Rights?

Sasha Brown-Worsham
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Scales of justice
Flickr photo by VaXzine
Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that sex offenders deemed "sexually dangerous" can be held indefinitely by the federal government even after their prison sentences have ended. 

The vote -- a 7-2 majority -- held that "the federal government, as custodian of its prisoners, has the constitutional power to act in order to protect nearby (and other) communities from the danger such prisoners may pose," wrote Justice Stephen Breyer for the majority.

On first glance, it seems great, right? Get those horrible predators off the street forever. Fine by me.

What is worrisome, though, is the fact that now the government has the power to override a jail sentence. I'm all for locking sex offenders up and throwing away the key, but I'm nervous about the constitutionality of not allowing a prisoner who served his sentence to go free.

Look, we all agree that sex offenders are bad and that there's something deeply flawed in a system that can release a dangerous criminal like the one who killed Chelsea King and Amber Dubois, two young joggers in California recently. And I'm not suggesting that people like that be allowed on the street, but it just feels like a dangerous game. One that is most decidedly unconstitutional. 

Here's a question: Why are we offering the same jail sentences -- 5 to 10 years -- to drug offenders as we do to sex offenders? Maybe the problem is with sentencing in the first place. Maybe we need to get tougher on even first-time sex offenders before we get to the point where the federal government needs to override sentencing.

There just seems to be a disconnect in a system where this is even an issue. If the rate of recidivism is so high, lock them up and throw away the key. If it isn't, then they must be allowed to serve their sentence and go free.

Of course, all of this is the daughter and granddaughter of a family full of lawyers speaking. Speaking as a parent, I don't care about the constitutionality. I just want my children to be safe.

This entire case was heard because Graydon Comstock, a prisoner six days from completing a three-year federal sentence for possession of child pornography, was certified as sexually dangerous and denied release. He sued and won and the case ended up before the Supreme Court.

Knowing that, it's easy to imagine this was probably a man who was on the verge of becoming more dangerous. Knowing this, it's hard to defend his right to be on the street.

I get that it's unconstitutional. And I get that it's a dangerous slippery slope, but I also know that it's such a distasteful topic, there's a part of me that wants to not care, that would prefer to see such people just disappear. So in times like that, I try to stay logical and remember that there have to be better channels through which we can reach the desired outcome.

What did you think of the ruling?


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