When activists throughout the state intensely lobbied earlier this year for passage of the Child Victims Act, which would end the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases, state Sen. Jeff Klein didn’t lift a finger. The legislation did not even come to the floor of the Senate, where he leads a coalition with majority Republicans, or the Assembly for a vote.
Now Mr. Klein, the head of a group of breakaway Democrats in that coalition, is talking tough about sex offenders with a condition called antisocial personality disorder. He says convicts who fit the bill should be subject to New York’s “civil confinement” law, which gives the state morally and legally dubious power to detain rapists and others in special treatment centers even after they have served their sentences.
There are plenty of differences between the abusers at Horace Mann School, who never had their day of reckoning in court due to the statute of limitations, and the kind of sex offenders Mr. Klein is targeting now. But the salient difference in Albany is that the latter group isn’t protected by powerful lobbies like the Catholic Church, which has fought the Child Victims Act out of fear of the lawsuits that could result if the legislation passes.
Apparently, if you are an abuser with powerful backing, you have nothing to fear from Mr. Klein. If you’re an easy target like convicted sex offenders and can earn the senator a headline in The Daily News, start saying your prayers.
Mr. Klein’s recent proposal might just be forgotten once the legislature reconvenes in the fall. But if the Senate takes up his idea, lawmakers should subject it to the utmost scrutiny. Serious constitutional concerns are at issue. While the Supreme Court has previously ruled in favor of “civil confinement” laws, that ruling — and whether it should apply to the group Mr. Klein has in mind — are still debatable. There are also important questions about the connection between antisocial personality disorder and crime. Detaining people in treatment centers as a way to keep them off the streets seems like a bad way to treat offenders.