At this study’s commencement, 17 states had enacted sex offender civil commitment legislation. Although each statute outlines broad criteria that must be met, civil commitment evaluators are given considerable latitude in how to conduct their assessment. Forty-one experts who conduct sex offender civil commitment evaluations were surveyed to identify the usual practice of these evaluators. A great deal of agreement exists across experts regarding the conduct of sex offender civil commitment evaluations. However, these patterns appear quite different from the usual practice outlined in other types of forensic evaluations. Experts in sex offender civil commitment endorsed documentation as the core method for evaluation. The majority of evaluators reported the assessment of paraphilias, substance abuse, other Axis I disorders, Axis II disorders, and psychopathy as essential to the evaluation. Virtually all survey respondents utilized actuarial risk assessment measures, primarily the Static-99, in assessing for risk of future sexual violence. Although several approaches to assessing volitional impairment were described, the majority of respondents reported that a history of sex offending combined with a personality disorder or a paraphilia established the necessary link between mental abnormality and risk of future sexual violence. An overwhelming majority of experts indicated that it was essential for evaluators to report their ultimate opinion as to whether criteria had been met for civil commitment. Future research regarding the use and incorporation of documentation should be conducted to determine whether the heavy reliance on documentation is unique to sex offender civil commitment evaluations, or whether it is commonly used in other forensic evaluations.
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An additional three states and the federal government have also passed laws that were not in effect or actively committing offenders at the time this survey was administered.
The category of “actuarial” risk assessment includes measures that are considered purely actuarial (e.g., Static-99, VRAG) as well as structured professional judgment (e.g., HCR-20; SVR-20).
Calculation of actual percentage is an approximation since some of the “yes” responses described were unclear as to whether the Static-99 was actually mandated or just highly encouraged.
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Jackson, R.L., Hess, D.T. Evaluation for Civil Commitment of Sex Offenders: A Survey of Experts. Sex Abuse 19, 425–448 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11194-007-9062-3
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