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April 2002Vol. 3, No. 3Supreme Court Decision Will Impact Civil Confinement of Sex Offenders

The U.S. Supreme Court's January 22nd ruling in Kansas v. Crane will make it harder for States to keep sex offenders in civil confinement after they've served their sentence. The Court's decision will have an unknown impact on the child welfare field according to Howard Davidson, director of the American Bar Association's Center on Children and the Law. Davidson did point out, however, that the ruling "is not opening doors to loose sexual offenders on the streets."

In order to impose civil confinement, States will have to show that the offenders have a mental illness that causes a lack of control over their own behavior. The January 22nd ruling builds upon a prior decision by the high court in Kansas v. Hendricks. Both rulings upheld the constitutionality of the "Kansas Sexually Violent Predator Act."

A general dearth of research clouds the potential impact of the law. Examination of how often prosecutors seek civil confinement, the percentage of cases affecting children, and the extent of collaboration between prosecutors and mental health professionals will help guide implementation of these laws.

States with laws similar to Kansas include Alabama, Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Washington, and Wisconsin.

The ruling can be found as a PDF file on the Supreme Court's website at Kansas v. Crane ( (This link is no longer available. To obtain opinions, use the resource provided by the U.S. Supreme Court at

Related Item

See the following related article in the May/June 2001 issue of the Children's Bureau Express:

  • "High Court Upholds Civil Commitment of Sexual Predators in Washington State"