We previously blogged about U.S. v. Comstock (opinion here), where the 4th Circuit struck down a provision of the Adam Walsh allowing the indefinite civil commitment of "sexually dangerous" persons. The American Psychiatric Association has now issued its response to Comstock in this interesting article:
APA's Committee on Persons With Mental Illness in the Criminal Justice System provided a written statement on the court ruling to Psychiatric News that described civil commitment for sexual offenders as "incarceration under the guise of treatment."
"The court ruled against indefinite commitment because it determined this to be a states' rights issue and not a power controlled by Congressional statute," said the committee statement. "However, in our opinion the legal tests defining 'sexual dangerousness,' 'severe mental illness,' and 'difficulty from refraining from future sexual violence or child molestation' are difficult to translate into psychiatric decision making."
The committee pointed out that the burden of a societal remedy for sexual violence should not rest with psychiatry. "By obliging psychiatrists to participate in the indefinite detention of individuals, their role as treating clinicians is transformed into that of a jailer," the committee statement said.
Instead, the committee's members suggested that the complex forensic issue of predicting sexually violent dangerousness is better handled through criminal-justice proceedings and sentencing rather than through the psychiatric civil-commitment process.