Blog followers keep asking me why I haven't posted about the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling this week in Comstock (approving the federal government's preventive detention of sex offenders). But why do I need to comment, when Fox News has got it covered?! Rarely do I see eye to eye with a Fox news commentator. So imagine my surprise (and pleasure) to find Fox running an astute commentary on the Comstock ruling.
The essay, "Sexual Offender Shenanigans," is by Keith Ablow, a forensic psychiatrist, TV personality, and mystery novelist. Dr. Ablow totally nails the slippery slope that we are sliding down in the civil commitment arena:
… In most states one of the "prongs" of being found not criminally responsible (by reason of mental illness) is the inability to conform one's behavior to the requirements of the law. Clearly, that is what federal prosecutors are contending -- but only in retrospect -- about the sexual offenders they seek to commit: They can't control themselves and never could. They are turning prisoners over to the secure hospitals that should have held them and tried to heal them from the very beginning (and, probably, for just as long)….Go, Fox News!
The potential for abuse of the federal sexual offender statute is too great. What happens when gang members are deemed too violent to be released after their prison terms are up? What happens when spousal abusers are considered too dangerous to hit the streets? How about those who conspire against the government in any way? Will they somehow find themselves not only sentenced to prison, but also later held without criminal trials in mental health units?
Sound far-fetched? Well, smart, democratic, free societies that hope to stay that way need to see the seeds of authoritarianism when they are planted. The federal sex offender law is such a seed. It blurs the boundaries between punishment for crimes and enforced psychiatric care for sick people (who can't control themselves). In so doing, it gives the government the power to lie in court and coerces the mental health care system to cover its backside.
Inappropriate government power is best sold to the public when it is said to apply only to the most hated folks among us. It's funny (actually, it's scary), though, how quickly that power could be applied to the rest of us.
The full text of Dr. Ablow's prophetic essay is HERE. The Daily Kos blog also has a good analysis of the case and its importance. Some of my earlier coverage of the Comstock case is HERE.