Date: February 03, 2021
“It is far better to be punished than to be treated,” is a line I can recall from some article or book that I once read, but the attribution of which is currently failing me. It speaks a truth that becomes apparent when you consider what we euphemistically call ‘civil commitment.’
We imprison people for things that they have done (or, at least, the things they were convicted of). That’s a pretty standard axiom of our criminal law. Civil commitment flips the arrangement on its head, and instead imprisoning them for what they might do.
In its most muscular form, it’s applied to people who have been convicted of sex offenses. Slightly less than half the states and the federal government have the ability to, potentially indefinitely, detain people for (ostensibly) the purposes of treatment. In America, at last count, there are roughly 6,300 people detained in this manner, with Black and LGBTQ individuals 2-3X more likely to be committed than non-minority counterparts.
Last month, Virginia lawmakers introduced a bill to end the practice in the commonwealth (though it was sent to Virginia State Crime Commission and won’t be passed anytime soon). Still, it’s a notable development in an area of the law that gets little attention.
We should end civil commitment. Here’s some reasons why:”