On January 1, 1998, Illinois revised what was formerly the Criminal Psychopathic Persons Act, renaming it the Sexually Dangerous Persons Act. ( ILCS 205) Across the country, the Sexually Dangerous Person (SDP) laws targeted violent recidivism, and differed from the earlier sexual psychopath laws in that they allowed for indefinite involuntary commitment after completion of the criminal sentence if the sexual offender is found to have a mental abnormality and to be dangerous. ( Parry, 2001) The Act allows sexually violent persons to be detained indefinitely in order to prevent violent recidivism.
Despite this change, the goal of the Illinois SDP Act continues to be the treatment instead of the incarceration of persons suffering from mental disorders. ( People, 1993) The Illinois SDP Act and similar laws applicable to other states have been at the center of considerable controversy. Criminal justice and mental health professionals, along with members of the public, have been unclear whether to focus public funds on punishing, treating, or detaining convicted offenders in order to prevent post-release criminal behavior.
Opponents of SDP statutes challenge that these laws violate constitutional guarantees of due process, and amount to double jeopardy and ex post facto lawmaking. The U. S. Supreme Court rejected these arguments in 1997, upholding the Kansas SDP law by a narrow margin. ( Kansas, 1997) In a five to four majority opinion, the Court decided that indefinite hospitalization was constitutional as long as treatment was provided. The tension surrounding confinement, supervision, and treatment of persons convicted of offenses has been even more intense in the assessment of probation programs.
Program officials must find ways to respect the rights of offenders, enable effective, ongoing treatment, and maintain public safety. These programs often must function at the center of competing demands and under the weight of decades of controversy. By the time of the Supreme Court's decision, the Cook County Adult Probation Department in Chicago had already begun restructuring its programming for convicted offenders.
Facilitating partnerships between probation and clinical professionals should further develop and advance the continually evolving field of convicted offender assessment and treatment. Both clinicians and probation officers share the ultimate goal of rehabilitating offenders and enhancing community safety. Collaborative ventures such as the ASOP need to be continually assessed and adjusted so that they may continue to function effectively. These efforts can then contribute to the repair of a social fabric too often damaged by adults committing any acts of violent crimes.