Sex offenders in Florida who have completed their prison terms often find themselves stuck in a legal limbo as they wait for the court system to determine whether they need additional civil treatment to control their culpable behavior. Court officials and civil rights advocates not only believe that individuals who have served their time for a sex crime may end up serving time beyond what was sentenced, their constitutional rights are also being threatened by the process.
After a sex offender in Florida completes their prison sentence, they must go through a court administered process that determines whether or not they are able to control the criminal behavior for which they were sentenced. If a judge decides that a former offender is a danger to society, the individual will be ordered to stay at the Florida Civil Commitment Center. The law says that upon the completion of an offender’s prison term a judge has 30 days to decide whether the former offender is a danger to society. More often than not, the length of the commitment determination process goes beyond the allotted 30 days and can take years in some instances.
During the determination process former offenders are held as pre-trial detainees, and they are neither released nor given mental health counseling or treatment. Former offenders have the opportunity to challenge their civil commitment, but there is an inherent contradiction within the challenge proceeding. A judge may find that a former offender is a danger to society as a violent predator. If so, the former offender is given a defense attorney and is sent to the treatment center to wait for the trial date.
Fruitful mental health treatment requires that former offenders reveal past acts that they may not have been convicted for, and a person challenging their commitment would not want to reveal any incriminating acts from the past. Civil rights advocates say the process presents the problem of punishing former offenders twice for the same sex crime.
Source: Herald Tribune, “Is Florida Holding Sex Offenders in Legal Limbo?” Todd Ruger, 12/13/10