Start with the lead essay below.
Our Deeply Flawed Civil Commitment System, June 3, 2015
By David Prescott
The Rise of the
, June 5, 2015 Preventative State
By Eric Janus
Let’s Stamp Out Perversion, June 9, 2015
By Amanda Pustilnik
Questionable Commitments, June 1, 2015
There is a young man in
sitting behind tall fences and razor wire, guarded by men with guns, and never
allowed to leave. According to the state, he isn’t in prison, and he is not
being punished for a crime. Instead, he’s being held because the government
says he might commit a crime in the future. Virginia
Against a backdrop of mass incarceration in America and a growing public understanding that the land of the free locks up more people than any other nation in the world, little attention has been paid to the evolving civil mechanisms that allow the state to deprive individuals of their liberty – often forever – under the guise of treatment. These systems represent a growing medicalization of crime, where criminal behavior is supposed to be caused by a mental problem rather than the person’s free will. If we commit crime because we are sick, then it would make sense for society to help make us better. This is dangerous thinking: It opens a door to a world in which we start to punish the criminal instead of the crime; a world in which the government is justified in imprisoning people because of who they are – and what they might do in the future – instead of only punishing crimes that we can prove they have committed beyond a reasonable doubt. In many ways, that world is already here.
Civil commitment is the legal practice of detaining individuals who are suffering from acute symptoms of severe mental illness so that they can be treated, often in a secured environment. In this model, the state is providing care for individuals who are unable to care for themselves, while protecting the public from individuals who are dangerous due to their psychiatric condition. Sounds reasonable, right? Over the past 25 years, however, new laws have been created, designed to use the traditional model of civil commitment as a way to create secondary prison sentences for people who have already paid their debt to society, dramatically expanding the power of the state and blurring the lines between civil and criminal law.