It’s fundamentally wrong to hold people indefinitely

A task force has come out with recommendations to try to help Minnesota and its political leaders deal with the sticky issue of indefinite detention of sexual predators. The state currently has about 700 people in custody, under a civil commitment process that sends them into a treatment program because they are deemed too dangerous to let back into society.

The task force wants to take commitments out of the hands of local judges through the creation of a statewide panel of retired judges. The panel also wants to see a “screening unit” created to weigh in on the danger level of any given sex offender. Part of the goal is to remove politics from what should be a judicial process. Politics is playing a role this year in decisions by the governor about whether to release given offenders and where to build a less-restrictive treatment facility.

The fundamental problem with the state’s system – and perhaps the proposed alternative – is that it keeps people behind bars after they have served their sentences for crimes. It is unconstitutional to hold people indefinitely because they may commit another crime. It is not something society does for other crimes. Rather, people are punished and then set free, or freed with conditions, such as parole.

If society – actually, its representatives, i.e. lawmakers – deem sex crimes to be particularly heinous, then sentences for these crimes can be changed to lengthy terms. But no government should be allowed to change the rules after the fact. Our nation’s Supreme Court will not allow this, nor should it.