May 20, 2010

Comstock case: Fox News tells it like it is!

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)….

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.
Go, Fox News!

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.

Hat tip: Joe P.


Shelomith Stow said...

Thank you, Dr. Ablow, for a clear, concise, and extremely logical analysis of this situation. It is horrifying that there are people who will laud this decision as a good one, although they are running far behind those who see it for what it is in the reports that I have read. Even many of those who would like to see all sex offenders burned at the stake see the danger in this Supreme Court ruling. "First, they came for the Jews...."

matthewhobbs444 said...

I will thank you also Dr. Keith Ablow. Your analysis is right on target. I find it refreshing that someone from the professional community can see what all these "sex offender shenanigans". The potential abuse of the sex offender statuate is enormous. It terrifies me to think of how far politicians are willing to go for votes. I am an independent voter from Mass. And the nation has already seen what being Independent means to all poiticians. We who deal with these laws on a daily basis see where they arre heading. Committment programs are double the cost. And if one is committed to a secure hospital, then they are DISABLED, ARE THEY NOT????? If one is mentally ill and diabled "mentally incapable", well then we are talking of a whole new picture. It will not be long before there is a registry for all types of people. The government targets a certain group of people and off and running we are. People listen up and be very careful, who you vote for. Start to think indepent, be informed, go online to the legislation, and see what bill are being passed, then find out if it is necessary. Know what you are voting for. For Gods sake people are on the registy for peeing outside while intoxicated. Our children are on the registry. ENOUGH.

Tusau said...

We are in the fanatical McCarthy state of mind when it comes to sex offenders. Decisions are based on hysteria and political posturing that results in laws that have been proven to be ineffective and even unconstitutional.

It will take a brave person like the news broadcaster, Edward R, Murrow, who stood up against Senator McCarthy. Such a person must demand that decision-makers be more rational about writing sex offender laws.

The Journal of Criminal Jurisdiction summarizes the irrational trap that legislators fall into...

“There is too much anger, hatred, and fear in our society today. We are socially paralyzed by the “monsters in the dark” we create as a way to hurt and discriminate against other."

"These negative, primal human emotions have caused people to push lawmakers to the brink of extremism in passing laws, especially those relating to “protecting our children,” that make no sense and never allow a person to pay their debt to society and move on to a productive lifestyle."

"Public safety policy is served by rational, reasoned debate—not fanaticism and extremism driven by fear.”