The influence of the clinical model can be seen in Illinois' Sexually Dangerous Persons Statute, which is not actually criminal law (Petrunik, 1994). Rather, it provides for the civil commitment of sexual offenders, particularly those who target children. The Act focuses on those who have a disorder that needs to be treated. After a charge has been laid for any offence, a district attorney may petition for civil committal of the defendant under the legislation, in an attempt to show that the person is 'sexually dangerous' (Petrunik, 1994, p. 37). Following petition, two psychiatrists specializing in this area are called upon to determine whether the accused meets the criteria laid out under the Act. Their report is submitted to the court, and a full hearing with a jury is held. If the criteria are not met, the accused is tried as originally charged. If the requirements are met, the accused is held and treated at a facility that has the capacity to treat the committed person until recovery. Sexually dangerous persons may apply after a year of civil commitment for release. Each release application must be heard by a mental health review board. A report is made upon every application as to whether the criteria continue to be met by an offender. If the offender no longer meets the commitment criteria, he or she is released.
There have been several criticisms of the Sexually Dangerous Persons Act (Petrunik, 1994). The Act does not consider an offender's amenability to treatment. If there is no possibility for treatment, detention is merely preventive and violates due process, considering that the detained person has never had a trial. As well, many people who could be detained under the Act are not violent and thus would not necessarily need detention for treatment. Confinement under the Sexually Dangerous Persons Act could potentially be deemed cruel or unusual punishment, contrary to the provisions of the American Bill of Rights.
In recent years, there has been a dramatic shift away from a clinical approach to dealing with dangerous offenders to a community protection approach. The clinical model disappeared from the forefront of American sex offender legislation, in part, as a result of the efforts of civil liberties movements whose members argued that mental health experts' assessments of dangerous offenders were merely moral judgements disguised in psychological terminology. Additionally, the validity of mental health experts' predictions of dangerousness has not been demonstrated. Both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association have made statements with respect to the inherent inaccuracies in the clinical predictions of dangerousness (Ewing, 1991). If an offender's future conduct could not be accurately assessed by the court, it would not be appropriate then, to commit him to custody indefinitely. Indeterminate sentences soon fell out of favour and legislators, in an effort to reinstate proportionality in the sentencing of sex offenders while protecting the community, decided that such a balance could only be attained by giving dangerous criminals determinate sentences and then notifying community members of their whereabouts after release.
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