Lock Up Sexual Predators For Life
Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Jacqueline Silbermann last week struck down an executive order by Governor George Pataki that would have seen 12 violent sexual predators confined to psychiatric institutions under civil law after they had completed serving prison sentences for sexual offenses. The offenders could have been released within the next two weeks, probably onto the streets of New York City, but Pataki administration officials filed an appeal of Silbermann’s decision, which kept the 12 locked up for the time being.
In September, at Pataki’s order, state correction officials began moving some sex offenders into mental hospitals, arguing they were too dangerous to be freed. The moves were carefully planned and well thought out. The offenders, many of whom had committed their crimes against children under 10 years of age, were examined by two psychiatrists at the prisons where they had served most or all of their sentences and by other psychiatrists at the mental institutions where they were sent after their release from prison. They remained under psychiatric supervision at the hospitals. Indeed, two of the 12 sex offenders due to be freed under Silbermann’s ruling have requested to remain in the mental health facilities.
Nevertheless, Pataki’s actions alarmed some professionals in the mental health community. An Albany-based mental health advocate, called the move a misuse of the mental health system and added that the offenders do not, for the most part, suffer from mental illnesses, but rather from “complex sexual disorders, more akin to addictions.”
Lawyers from Manhattan-based Mental Hygiene Legal Services (MHLS), who petitioned the court on behalf of the 12 offenders, claimed that state officials had created an illegal procedure in order to move the 12 inmates from prison to a hospital on Ward’s Island. Silbermann agreed that Pataki had broken the law. “Even persons acquitted of violent crimes by reason of insanity may not be civilly committed to a mental hospital solely because they pose a danger to society,” she added.
“The governor and state officials have a very valid concern about the risks posed to the public by repeat sex offenders,” Silbermann wrote. “Nevertheless, that some of the petitioners may involuntarily have been placed in the mental health system by executive fiat is a possibility which this court cannot ignore.”
While we appreciate the good justice’s concern that some of the sexual predators might have been sent to state mental institutions “involuntarily”—whatever that word might mean in this context—we think her concerns are misguided. The 12 were “involuntarily” sent to prison in the first place because they had committed crimes against the people of the state of New York and the people had a right to be protected from their further predations for as long as their sentences ran.
The people also had—and have—a right to be protected from criminals even after those criminals have served their time, especially and particularly if, as is the case with a great many sexual offenders, it appears likely that they will commit sexual crimes again.
“[This] ruling creates special, new judge-made rights and protections for rapists, predators and pedophiles who are about to be released from prison into our communities,” Pataki declared in a statement. “Without question, if this ruling is allowed to stand it would jeopardize the safety of our children and communities throughout the state.”
The 12 men, if released unsupervised into an unknowing, defenseless community, will, indeed, pose a threat to potential victims of all ages. One, a 21-year-old, has completed a three-year sentence obtained through a plea deal after raping his ex-girlfriend. A 37-year-old man with a history of pedophilia abused his 7-year-old daughter. Another of the 12 climbed through a Bronx apartment window and sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl. For three years another man repeatedly sodomized a boy then under 11 years of age.
Some of the men’s actions may arise from compulsions beyond their control. One of the 12, for example, a nonviolent 62-year-old man, sexually abused two boys 8 and 13 years old. The man has an IQ below average and is unable to resist his impulses toward young boys, to a degree removing criminal intent from his actions. For that reason, however, it seems obvious that this is a person who cannot be allowed in society.
All the men involved received relatively light sentences—five months in one case (extended to two years when the miscreant violated probation) to five years. But the victims of the assaults have been sentenced to a lifetime of physical and emotional damage. Putting their tormentors back on the streets to rape and assault again will not help them—or us.
We join with Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Assemblymember Michael Gianaris in calling for stiffer punishments for sex offenders, especially those who commit such heinous crimes against children. Gianaris has suggested that if released, such offenders wear an ankle bracelet that will keep them under electronic surveillance for the rest of their lives. That sounds like good common sense to us. Many sexual predators cannot or do not wish to be cured, which is regrettable. However, children are entitled to grow up unmolested and women have a right to exist without fear of rape.