Civil commitment of sociopaths

I recently read an interesting discussion of the civil commitment of sex offenders in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law by Shoba Sreenivasan, Ph.D. and colleagues. I had some thoughts about the article I’d like to share with you.

Many states in the United States now have laws that allow for a sexually violent predator (SVP) or a sexually dangerous person (SDP) to be committed to a mental hospital or forced into outpatient supervision once they have completed their prison sentence. In these states, mental health professionals are asked to evaluate potentially dangerous sociopaths and decide whether there is enough risk to society to warrant either inpatient or forced outpatient treatment. If an offender is deemed to be a SDP/SVP they can be committed indefinitely, only California has a specified renewable term of 2 years.

To qualify as aSVP/SDP an offender (1) has to be convicted of the offenses determined by the state to constitute a sexually violent crime; (2) to suffer from a diagnosed mental disorder; and (3) as a result of that disorder, represent a risk to public safety if released to the community.

Notice that SDP/SVP laws are designed to detect the “mentally disordered” and to differentiate them from other offenders who are presumed to be normal (?). (Is anyone who commits a sexually violent crime normal?) The intent of the SVP/SDP laws is not punishment of the offender but protection of society.

The authors of the article point out that antisocial personality disorder (sociopathy/psychopathy) can be one of the mental disorders used to justify commitment. ASPD is recognized to qualify as “a congenital or acquired condition affecting the emotional or volitional capacity that predisposes the person to the commission of criminal sexual acts to a degree constituting the person a menace to the health and safety of others.”

Granted, not every sociopath is a sex offender, and not every sociopath who commits a sexual offense is deemed to be a SVP/SDP. For example if an offender breaks into a person’s home to steal things, discovers a victim and then assaults, that is different from the offender who breaks in to look for a sexual victim and doesn’t take the jewelry.

The idea behind these laws is that the mental disorder causes the person to offend and diminishes his/her capacity to resist reoffending. In Minnesota for example, “Sexual psychopath personality” means the existence in any person of such conditions of emotional instability, or impulsiveness of behavior, or lack of customary standards of good judgment, or failure to appreciate the consequences of personal acts, or combination of any of these conditions, which render the person irresponsible for personal conduct with respect to sexual matters, if the person has evidenced, by a habitual course of misconduct in sexual matters, an utter lack of power to control the person’s sexual impulses and, as a result, is dangerous to other persons.

These laws all raise the question of the sociopath’s choice with respect to behavior. They imply that the sociopath has diminished choice and that the predatory behavior is a compulsion.

I am very much in favor of these SVP/SDP laws. I just wish we applied the same reasoning to other compulsions sociopaths have. For example. What about con artists? Don’t they evidence, “by a habitual course of misconduct in truthful matters, an utter lack of power to control the person’s lying impulses and, as a result, is dangerous to other persons.” While we recognize the terrible impact of sexual assault on victims, we tend to minimize or not recognize the psychological rape perpetrated by con artists.

Many sociopaths are “criminally versatile” in that they compulsively commit many different classes of crimes. Why can’t we recognize that sociopaths have a personality disorder that indeed makes them dangerous to other people, and subject them to more careful supervision once they are released from prison?

The states that have SVP/SDP laws are Arizona, Illinois, Wisconsin, California, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, New Jersey, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Dakota and Tennessee.

For more discussion see:Sreenivasan, S., Weinberger, L., & Garrick, T. (2003). Expert testimony in sexually violent predator commitments: conceptualizing legal standards of “mental disorder” and “likely to reoffend”. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online, 31(4), 471-485.

Comment on this article

31 Comments on "Civil commitment of sociopaths"

Notify of

Dear R-babe,

Yep, and a few statistics that will “curl your hair.”

For every sexual attack on a child that is knownn about, 300 are committed. How does THAT sit with you? Probably the same way it does with me!

Okay, out of those that are “discovered”—how may are actually prosecuted and the perp sent to prison? Not sure, but I bet not a lot. Everyone I have ever had anything to do with the case, wasn’t even prosecuted. (I worked in family medicine for years in Rural lHealth clinics and reported several girls that had been molested) Sure they were investigated because I FOLLOWED UP ON MY GUT AND CALLED THE COPS, but without me most likely they would have never even been investigated. NONE prosecuted. The perps do children too young to be good witnesses. Doctors won’t cooperate, too much of their VALUABLE time!

It just makes my blood boil, that the Trojan Horse Psychopath ex con my P-son sent after me had been convicted 3 times, three children and sent to prison, so that means he did, what, statistically 900 “events?”

Charles Walls III (“Jackie”) from Arkansas used to work with my X husband in the little town of 3,000 we lived in in AR and he molested 1500 kids over a 20 yr period, got one to kill his parents after the kid “told”—big boy scout leader. I knew him, his family, his wife and kids, all wonderful people. I knew Jackie was a jerk, but I NEVER SUSPECTED he was a monster.

I’ve known personally others who were “upstanding” citizens and employees, “God fearing” church-going PERVERTS! I think they should be sent to Devil’s Island forever! Anyone who thinks a pedophile is not a psychopath doesn’t know them. They do not change, or reform. Even castration doesn’t help. We had a rapist here in AR who was castrated by the victim’s family before his arrest, he went to prison for several years, but got out and killed and raped another woman not long after his release on “compassionate grounds” by the governor. Wayne DuMond is his name.

Mike Huckabee was the governor that released him. He also has presidential aspirations and I will campagin against him with all I have in me. I would vote for Osama ben laden first!


Oxy, you have really given me something to think about with your ideas of crime reduction by implementing a 3 strikes rule, and with the assertion that pedophiles are psychopaths.

It is ’common knowledge’ that pedophiles minimize or deny the affect their actions have on their victims. In my lifetime it has also been ’common knowledge’ that they do what they do because of tragic abusive childhoods; I wonder where that idea comes from? How long has it been around?

When I was a kid sexual abuse wasn’t talked about. I had no words what so ever to describe my experiences. As a teen rape was spoken of (what would happen to us if we weren’t ’good girls’), and sexual abuse meant rape. They were inseparable and there was no gradation of anything being sexual abuse that wasn’t penetrative rape.

As we started to name things in the 1970’s ”“ as feminists started to name things, ’common knowledge’ shifted a bit. And in the 80’s there was an explosion of information and treatments, groups and self healing books for victims of domestic/ sexual assault, incest and rape.

I don’t know how this happened (I am trying to sort the trajectory and influences of our ’common knowledge’ of heinous behavior in north america) but some where down the line it became ’common knowledge’ that abusers were abused.

So much of people’s bad behavior became to be explained as the product of this domestic physical and sexual violence. And we became so f*cking understanding. We also started to think that if there was a cause, there must be a cure.

So what if, the paradigm is a bit different, what if: they diminish or dismiss the injury they cause because they are sociopaths, and they are this way because it is WHAT THEY ARE, NOT WHAT THEY BECAME because of environmental influences.

We all know stories of people with the worst beginnings in life who became incredible loving parents. And vsia versa. I am not saying that early intervention with p/s/n’s shouldn’t be undertaken or won’t make a difference – but that their behaviour is intrinsic.

On the spectrum of spaths we have those who will cause pain and suffereing just by living and interacting with people, those who are overtly sadistic, and those who are pedophiles – and cross over of areas of the spectrum is probable. huh, this makes me wonder (as we all know spaths will be sexual with anyone who they see as supply) if more of our spaths are pedophiles than we know. In much the same way we come to know that men that we thought were only with women, we are with men sexually, perhaps we will come to know that they are with children also. We know of many instances where they manipulate young teens as supply.

We also know they are ALWAYS projecting crap. I want to see a show of hands of spaths who say they were sexually abused as children”..yah, I thought so.

The spath of my aquaintance was ALWAYS AND FOREVER ON ABOUT BEING SEXUALLY ABUSED as a child ”“ by her father, her sister, her this, her that. If I ever find out that she has abused a child, I don’t know what I will do.

I say this sincerely Oxy: Thanks, I am one more step away from being a nice democrat girl.

does constant internoet trolling constitute this condition?

I wonder if there is something here….if he gets identified as a P under the federal eval, they deal with it?

Internet trolling is a really grey area, Silvermoon. There are laws in most States that address internet harassment and stalking, but trolling? I guess it’s a caveat emptor for internet users.


Send this to a friend