January 8, 2011

Little New England state serious about its motto

"Live Free or Die" even applies to sex offenders

In most of the 20 U.S. states with civil commitment statutes for sex offenders, the costs are staggering. As I have reported previously, millions of dollars are being spent to prosecute and detain certain recidivist sex offenders, while public school teachers must beg for basic supplies like pencils and paper.

New Hampshire is a dramatic exception. Since passing its civil commitment law four years ago, it has civilly committed only two men.

Yes, only two. William Ploof and Thomas Hurley. Both, not surprisingly, had sexually assaulted boys, not girls or women.

The dearth of commitments was a big surprise, according to an AP article by Norma Love. The state’s Corrections Commissioner had set aside 10 psychiatric beds and thought those would be overrun. The chief public defender had hired three new attorneys and a legal secretary and opened a new office in anticipation of a flood of cases. He's since laid off most of the new staff.

Of the many hundreds of cases referred to prosecutors for review, just eight have been found to merit prosecution. In the United States as a whole, more than 5,000 sexual predators are confined indefinitely.

Some attribute New Hampshire's reticence to preemptively detain citizens to its civil libertarian philosophy, as manifested by its state motto. The state does not require seatbelts or helmets and rarely pursues the death penalty.

But also, there seems to be no rabid political or citizen lobby like elsewhere. A spokeswoman from the Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, for instance, said her group is fine with the law's implementation. Amanda Grady told the AP reporter that she trusts New Hampshire's prosecutors to pick the option that best fits the individual case -- whether it be monitoring felons through parole, civil commitment or the state's sex offender registry.

Could this be a little spark of rationality and common sense (as opposed to moral panic) in crime policy in 21st century America? If so, three cheers for The Granite State.

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