You may have read the Supreme Court's emergency interim ruling in the ongoing case of U.S. v. Comstock, announced yesterday.
The Supreme Court has blocked the imminent release of dozens of sex offenders who have served their federal sentences after the Obama administration claimed many of them remain "sexually dangerous."
Chief Justice John Roberts on Friday ordered that the men be kept in custody while the case works its way through a federal appeals court, which had ruled as many as 77 North Carolina inmates should be released, some as early as next week.
At issue is whether the government has the power to indefinitely detain prisoners who have served their sentences but could pose a public threat upon release. Such laws are known as "civil commitments."
The Justice Department filed papers with the high court Friday, asking that any release be put on hold until the justices have more time to consider the larger legal issues raised in their appeal.
Such an early release "would pose a significant risk to the public and constitute a significant harm to the interest of the United States," wrote Solicitor General Elena Kagan, who took office this month.
There's more at the link.
I have a deep and very personal interest in this matter, arising from my years of part-time and full-time work as a prison chaplain. I can see both sides of the situation. A prisoner who's completed his sentence has 'done his time', and wants to be released. He may have undergone treatment during his incarceration, and may genuinely believe that he won't reoffend. On the other hand, the track record of the majority of sex offenders demonstrates that most of them remain prone to reoffending. (Of course, I'm talking about real sex offenders, not those created by a stroke of the pen - for example, by legislation defining consensual underage sex between teenage lovers as a sex crime. It's not. It's human nature, and has been going on for as long as homo sapiens has been in existence, and will until we die out. The fact that dumbass legislators have decided to label it as a sex crime, equating it with rape, etc., doesn' t make it so in reality.)
There have been several occasions when I sat with psychologists at a prison, discussing the case of an inmate scheduled for release. All of us knew - knew, beyond a shadow of doubt - that he'd reoffend within a matter of weeks, even days. There was no doubt about this whatsoever in our minds . . . but we had no legal grounds to keep him behind bars. Even if we'd gone to court, and pleaded with the judge in the name of his future victims to keep him locked up, there wasn't anything the judge could have done. We've had to release them, and later read the reports of their new crimes. It's soul-destroying. (By the way, these weren't only sex offenders. Many were violent criminals, former drug addicts, who'd fried their brains through prolonged exposure to illegal narcotics, and no longer had any sense of judgment or morality.)
On the other hand, I'm sure that this new law - and others that will follow it - will be misused from time to time. I've no doubt that some corrections officials will try to apply it across the board, to any inmate who might possibly reoffend. They'll fear being sued if they don't, and he's released, and commits another crime. This means that some inmates who aren't a danger to society any longer will probably be locked up past the completion of their sentences, perhaps for the rest of their lives. That's completely unjust and unfair . . . but what's the alternative?
It's a heck of a dilemma. Part of me supports an indefinite sentence for any and all criminals likely to pose a serious risk to the physical safety of others, whether through sexual or violent assault, arson, etc. On the other hand, part of me is unequivocally opposed to such indefinite sentences, knowing that bureaucrats will use them indiscriminately in an attempt to cover their own backsides against future problems, irrespective of whether or not this causes undue harm to prisoners who don't deserve it.
What's your answer, readers? I'd love to hear from you in Comments.