What is a Sexually Violent Predator?

wiseGEEK Writer

A sexually violent predator is someone who has committed more than one sexual crime that meets regional standards as sexually violent. The term predatory is suggested because the person has committed multiple crimes. The rest of the definition has to do with mental health assessment suggesting that the person is mentally ill or has some types of personality disorders, which make it likely he or she will commit more crimes in the future, if not appropriately supervised. From a legal standpoint this declaration means that the mental health authorities of a region can continue to retain the person in custody even after he or she has served a full sentence, providing authorities prove the definition applies.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

Not all regions have laws that so clearly define the term "sexually violent predator," but in many places, like a number of states in the US, some definition or legal standing does apply. Given the background of people serving a sentence, officials from state mental health departments may conduct examination to determine if they meet the qualifications of a regional law. Should people meet these qualifications, which generally allow appeal by those convicted, incarceration might be extended.

Usually the person who is incarcerated for longer than an original prison sentence would be moved to a facility that holds the criminally insane. In this setting prisoners do have more access to things like counseling, and people can ultimately be released if it is determined they are no longer a threat to society. Alternately, they can be released under extremely guarded circumstances, sometimes called civil confinement, when it’s determined they are not a threat, but at the same time the release raises huge concerns about the safety of the people who would live near the sexually violent predator.

Laws that allowed for this declaration were first ratified in the 1990s, and they have met with some legal challenges that have not been successful. One of these challenges is the obvious concern regarding the right to incarcerate beyond the original prison term. There is concern about potential abuse of this law, but this is matched by concern that short and non-rehabilitative prison sentences of the sexually violent predator created great and demonstrable risk to the society. Many simply argued that sentencing laws should be adjusted, but most states have been able to avoid this by involving mental health agencies that have the right to commit people who are extremely ill.

When ultimately a sexually violent predator is allowed to re-enter a community, even with many safeguards, this is still met with shock, alarm, and protest. In some regions there are some laws designed to prevent released prisoners from being near others at risk. For instance, some jurisdictions won’t allow a sexually violent predator that has been released to live within certain distances from schools, and some people who are released must wear GPS bracelets. Still, many people are not released from jail ever, if they show continuing mental illness and proclivity toward recidivism.

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