For Marylanders accused of sexual assault, rape or statutory rape, there is a huge fear that they will be sent to prison for the rest of their lives. There are, however, alternative programs that are sometimes available for those convicted of a sex crime, including civil commitment. Although Maryland doesn't have a civil commitment system, the example of other states may call into question whether such a program would actually benefit the men and women convicted of sex crimes.
One state has raised considerable controversy after it is finally releasing its first person from the civil commitment program. The man has spent over 20 years in a commitment program, but it was only recently that the state stopped objecting to his release during regular evaluations. It does not appear that the man continued to pose a threat to society, but rather that the state had nothing set up that could support a participant after his or her release.
For many parents whose children are stuck in the system, the civil commitment system seems like an indefinite and arbitrary detention. While the case of the man who has spent over 20 years within the civil program may seem like an oddity, it is far from it. One man has spent the same amount of time in the program, but has been in the program since he was 16-years-old. His mother is still unsure when he will be released.
Although some people have been vocal supporters of a civil commitment program in Maryland, it is important that the program be better about evaluating and releasing participants who will not pose a threat to the public. Even those people who have served their time in prison will be released when their sentence is up; Marylanders sent to a civil commitment should not just be indefinitely held.
Source: Minnesota Public Radio News, "Families of sex offenders find hope in Clarence Opheim's release," Rupa Shenoy, March 5, 2012