Sexually violent predator laws

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In the United States, some jurisdictions may involuntary commitment certain types of dangerous sex offenders to state-run detention facilities following the completion of their sentence if that person has a "metal abnormality" or personality disorder that makes the person likely to engage in sexual offenses if not confined in a secure facility.[1][2] Twenty U.S. states, the federal government, and the District of Columbia have a version of these commitment laws, which are referred to as "Sexually Violent Predator" (SVP) or "Sexually Dangerous Persons" laws.[2]

Generally speaking, SVP laws have three elements:[3] (1) That the person has been convicted of a sexually violent offense (a term that is defined applicable statutes) (2) That the person suffers from a mental abnormality and/or personality disorder, which causes him/her serious difficulty controlling his/her sexually violent behavior. (3) That this mental abnormality and/or personality disorder makes the person likely to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence if not confined in a secure facility.

A "mental abnormality" is a legal term of art that is not identical to a mental illness though experts generally refer to diagnoses contained in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as evidence of a mental abnormality.[4]

In most cases, commitment as an SVP is indefinite however, once a person is committed, the confining agency is constitutionally required to conduct periodic reviews of that person's mental condition. If the committed person's condition changes so he/she no longer meets commitment criteria, he/she must be released. In some circumstances, committed persons can be released to court-monitored conditional releases to less restrictive alternative placements (LRAs).[5]


In 1990, the first SVP law was established in Washington following two high-profile sexual assaults and murders by Earl Kenneth Shriner and Gene Kane.[6] In response to the attacks, Helen Harlow - the mother of Gene Kane's victim - formed a group known as The Tennis Shoe Brigade in order to put pressure on state government to change the laws related to sex offenders. Washington Governor Booth Gardner formed the "Task Force on Community Protection" to consider possible solutions.

While the Task Force deliberated, serial killerWestley Allan Dodd kidnapped, raped, and murdered three young boys in Vancouver, Washington. The Task force provided its recommendations to the state legislature which then enacted the "Community Protection Act of 1990."

As of 2015, 20 states and The District of Columbia have enacted laws similar to Washington's.[2] The Federal Government established its sex offender commitment process when it passed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.[7]

States with SVP Laws[edit]

Legal Challenges[edit]

In 1997, The US Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of SVP laws in Kansas v. Hendricks.

See also[edit]


  • La Fond, John Q. und Winick, Bruce J. (eds.): Protecting society from sexually dangerous offenders: law, justice, and therapy. American Psychological Association, 2003.


External links[edit]