Civil Commitment — another Hotel California?

By Dwayne . . . When I initially overheard the registry community speak about the term “civil commitment,” I thought people were discussing gay marriage. However, I quickly realized that civil commitment was something in many ways worse than the sexual offense registry and a “ceremony” that nobody would ever want to attend.

As it relates to those who have been incarcerated, the textbook definition and justification of involuntary commitment, civil commitment, or involuntary hospitalization is post-sentence institutional detention of an offender to prevent further offenses. Nearly all cases are sex offense related. In addition, there are locations known as civil commitment facilities designed to help diagnose and treat sexual offense conditions. Thus, it is not considered a punishment but rather a means of protecting people. At least, that is what people who strongly advocate for civil commitment say.

The reality is that post-incarceration civil commitment is a cleverly created, feel-good scheme intended to make the general public feel like there is an easy solution to the more critical sexual offense issues. It is a system designed to give a look and feel of a hospital or treatment facility setting. Let’s be crystal clear that civil commitment facilities are identical to prisons. There are guards, fences, barriers, and often jail-like patient uniforms where every facet of daily routine is monitored. The only difference between prison and civil commitment is that at least with prison, one knows when he/she will be released.

The difference between healthcare and civil commitment facilities is that in healthcare facilities, workers such as nurses, nurse aids, doctors, and various therapists roam the patient corridors. This isn’t found within civil commitment centers. Instead, there are guards and perhaps a sprinkling of a case manager here and there. Some former civil commitment residents have said that civil commitment is like hospice where people go to die because they are told that there is no cure for “people like you.” You wouldn’t find such antagonism in a professional clinical setting. There would be beneficial resources available to create a target for a successful treatment plan. But states have perhaps found a profitable cash cow by pretending to be a clinic or hospital.

Involuntary commitment isn’t cheap for patients. Civil commitment doesn’t accept or participate in health insurance plans, and patients have been known to be billed astronomical rates that they could never repay. But that leaves taxpayers on the hook for potentially hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for “treatment” that almost never works – because the “patients” are almost never released – and certainly isn’t cost-effective. Unfortunately, taxpayers are quite possibly unaware of involuntary commitment programs in their states. But with the recent pandemic impacting state budgets, now may be the time where scrutiny needs to be focused on the lavish spending by involuntary commitment programs.

Many mental health professionals advocate for cognitive-based therapy (CBT) and believe it is the most effective method in therapy for the treatment of habitual sexual offenses. Sex offender therapy: A battle on multiple fronts is a scholarly article that puts forth evidence-based recommendations that set a maximum cap of two years for sex offense treatment with CBT methodologies at its forefront. Yet, we continue to witness lawmakers and victims’ advocates propose ill-conceived indeterminate proposals.

Civil or involuntary commitment is somewhat similar to the lyrics of the song Hotel California. “Relax, said the night man, We are programmed to receive. You can check out any time you like, But you can never leave!” Essentially, most sex offense civil commitment facilities and treatment programs are nothing more than hospitals or clinics by name only where punishment is the prescription. Civil commitment that targets and warehouses sexual offenses is a hazardous and extravagant concept that quickly needs to be euthanized. Civil commitment programs are somewhat similar to the detention cells at Guantanamo Bay. They are costly, unethical, political, harmful, have no practical benefit, and side-skirt fundamental human rights.

a guest writer

Written by 

NARSOL accepts original, unpublished submissions no longer than 750 words and written in Word or a comparable, editable program. Whether used or not, you will be notified. All submissions are subject to editing for grammatical structures and clarity. Please specify the name you wish used as author, a sentence or two of self-identification, and a valid email address. Email as an attachment to