One of the assumptions that plagues policy discussions about sex offender policy is that sex offenders are mentally ill. This assumption usually leads to sometimes oppositional conclusions. First, some believe that offenders are sick, but incurable. This means they require constant supervision, restriction, and/or incarceration. Others believe (or at least state they believe) that offenders can be "cured" which means they require constant supervision, restriction, and/or incarceration until they are "cured." Either way, the result is largely the same. Steve Erickson recently posted a rather lengthy discussion of how mistaken this assumption is. I suggest you go check out the whole thing, but here is a key portion:
As mentioned previously, the idea that pedophilia is a mental illness on par with schizophrenia or other strongly biologically caused illnesses of the mind is weak. Yet that hasn't stopped many from suggesting otherwise. And when it comes to the civil commitment of sex offenders, the Supreme Court has concluded that a link between a mental abnormality and volitional control is necessary to justify commitment....
Like most areas of science, behavioral science experts use tests to help them formulate their opinions; and in the area of sex offender assessments, the tests used vary widely and are applied in a variety of clinical and legal situations. But the sheer ease in which these same tests can confirm a mental abnormality in one case and suggest a high risk for recidivism among someone without mental illness in another says a lot about the strange marriage between behavioral science and criminal law.
I agree strongly with everything Erickson posted. I think his conclusion may be right that whether sex criminals are viewed as "sick" or "evil" may not change their terms of incarceration. However, I, like Erickson, think it is important to make sure our policies are based upon sound science rather than mistaken assumptions. There are definitely sex offenders who are mentally ill, but that is true of any criminal population. However, society doesn't label all thieves "kleptomanics" because a subset of the thief population are, in fact, kleptomaniacs. Treating all sex offenders as "sick" or "ill" is a mistake that courts, legislators, and policy groups often make. Hopefully, at some point in the future, a more honest discussion on this issue can occur.