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This Just In ...

Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.

Should sex offenders be confined beyond their prison sentences?


During my years at WTMJ in the 1990’s, I reported extensively on state Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and her Sexual Predator Bill to allow the state to continue to confine sexually violent predators after they have served their full prison sentences if they were deemed to still pose a dangerous risk to society.

Darling’s legislation was approved and signed into law making Wisconsin one of the few states at the time to have such a statute on the books.

The constitutionality of six state sexual predator laws was called into question and reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Kansas vs. Hendricks. Kansas' Sexually Violent Predator Act created procedures for the civil commitment of persons who, due to a "mental abnormality" or a "personality disorder," are likely to engage in "predatory acts of sexual violence."

Leroy Hendricks had a long record of sexually molesting children and was scheduled for release from prison. At the time, Hendricks said the only way that he would stop attacking children would be if he would die. A state doctor determined that Hendricks suffered from pedophilia, was not cured, and harbored uncontrollable sexual desires for children when he felt stressed. A jury ruled Hendricks was a sexually violent predator and he was confined indefinitely after completing a 10-year prison term.

The State Supreme Court in Kansas invalidated Kansas’ Sexually Violent Predator Act. However, in 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in a 5-4 ruling that
the Kansas law did not violate Hendricks’ rights to due process, and that the law did not violate the prohibition against double jeopardy.

"What is the state supposed to do, just wait until he goes out and does it again?" Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist asked.

Wisconsin’s law was safe (Today, 20 states have civil commitment laws for sex offenders).

Then in 2004, Senator Darling authored legislation (Senator Mary Lazich and Representative Jeff Stone were co-sponsors) that made changes to
Wisconsin’s Sexual Predator Law. The statute allowed for the involuntary commitment of sexually violent persons who have a history of sexually violent offenses and are considered likely to re-offend. The legislation signed into law changed the standard of dangerousness, allowing authorities to confine and treat sexually violent persons through civil commitment after they have served their prison sentences.

U
nder the previous law, prosecutors were required to demonstrate that a sex offender was "much more likely than not" to commit a sexually violent act if released. All too often, offenders were sent back onto the streets without having made the proper progress in treatment.

Under the law signed in April 2004, a court may not order that the sexual predator be placed on supervised release unless the offender has received treatment and made substantial progress. In addition, the state would be able to civilly commit dangerous sex predators who are likely to re-offend, placing into statute the standard of dangerousness used in other states.

Wisconsin houses sex offenders diagnosed to be too dangerous for release at Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center near Madison. Treatment is voluntary and officials at the facility reportedly have admitted half of the patients are untreatable. The Wisconsin State Journal wrote in 2007, "Treatment providers must only reduce their risk of re-offense from worse than that of an average sex offender to the same as an average sex offender.”

So the patients are never really cured.

The cost of confinement for a sex offender is four times that of locking up a murderer in Waupun.

"Yeah, it's expensive, and yeah, it's difficult," said Senator Darling.  "But it's the right thing to do at this point in our history. These people are not considered safe to be on the street."

Sand Ridge Director Steve Watters considers the policies about sex offenders to be successful since he regards the public as opposed to the patients as its "main customer."

"We're here to try to make Wisconsin a safer place," Watters told the Wisconsin State Journal. |

Many offenders stay confined but many don’t. The State Journal examined state records and found that, “In 2006, 1,464 sex offenders about to be released from prison were eligible for commitments because of the nature of their crimes. Eligible offenses include first- and second-degree sexual assault and sexual crimes against children. But more than 90 percent of them instead were released into the community on supervision. Between 1997 and 2006, nearly 1,500 sex offenders specifically classified as high risk were released from prison after serving sentences for two or more commitment-eligible crimes.”

The newspaper reported that officials consider civil commitment to be “the best compromise between protecting the public while still offering treatment and hope of release to those who can be helped. And its legal basis seems firm, after a 1997 U.S. Supreme Court case out of Kansas defined the after-prison confinement as treatment rather than double punishment for the same crime.”

Fast forward to today.

Once again, the highest court in the country is reviewing civil commitment of sex offenders, but this time with a different twist. The feds are the focus of attention.

In 2006, Congress passed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. One of the law’s provisions allows the federal government to civilly commit anyone in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons whom the Attorney General certifies to be "sexually dangerous." Thus, the person's confinement continues after the expiration of his prison term, without proof of a new criminal violation.

Graydon Comstock had been sentenced to 37 months for receiving child pornography. Six days before his scheduled release, the Attorney General certified Comstock as sexually dangerous. Three years later, Comstock remains confined in a medium security prison, as do more than 60 other similarly situated men in the Eastern District of North Carolina alone. Comstock and several others are challenging their confinements as going beyond Congress's constitutional authority.

So far, they have won in both the district and appellate courts. The United States successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to review the case. At issue is w
hether Congress had the constitutional authority to enact law that authorizes court-ordered civil commitment by the federal government of  “sexually dangerous” persons who are already in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons, but who are coming to the end of their federal prison sentences, and “sexually dangerous” persons who are in the custody of the Attorney General because they have been found mentally incompetent to stand trial.

CNN.com has more details on US vs.Comstock.

Sex offenders cannot be cured, rehabilitated or saved. When they are released, the odds are they will re-offend. Current laws have saved thousands of children from being molested.

This is an important one, folks, and I don't have to remind Franklin residents what a hot-button item this is. There is probably no issue more important than the safety of our most prized and most vulnerable possessions: our children. Supreme Court justices selected by the president will now consider this crucial case.

It is yet another important example that elections matter.

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