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Criminal Penalties and the Civil Commitment of Sex Offenders: Whether Strengthening Our Existing Laws Would Ensure Their Effectiveness in Making Our Communities Safer?


To determine the best means by which New York laws can be changed to better protect the public from sex offenders, including a review of whether New York should enact a law providing for the involuntary civil commitment of sex offenders.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005
10:00 AM
Hamilton Hearing Room B
Legislative Office Building, 2nd Floor
Albany, NY

Over the past decade, New York has significantly strengthened laws punishing sex offenses and other violent crimes. Over this time, additional measures were enacted for the control and supervision of offenders who complete their prison terms. Among these new laws are statutes that provide for:

  • life sentences for certain twice convicted child sex offenders;
  • increased penalties for statutory rape;
  • creating a new “date rape” statute, which makes proving rape significantly easier in many circumstances; and
  • numerous enhancements to the state’s Sex Offender Registration Act (“SORA”), also known as “Megan’s Law”.

A number of other proposals have been made in both the Assembly and Senate including measures that provide life sentences for first-time aggravated rape, authorize the lifetime registration of offenders under Megan’s Law and require electronic monitoring and enhanced parole and post-release supervision for high risk sex offenders.

Several states, approximately twenty at the present time, have enacted “civil commitment” laws. These statutes authorize the involuntary placement of certain sex offenders in mental health facilities following the completion of their prison terms. New York provides a statutory mechanism for the civil confinement of mentally ill persons who are determined to be dangerous to themselves or others. See, e.g., Mental Hygiene Law Article 9. A sex offender civil commitment law would supplement New York’s existing statute.

The purpose of this hearing is to enable interested persons to offer testimony on these issues, including the following questions:


  1. How can existing New York laws punishing and regulating sex offenders be further strengthened?

  2. What mechanisms exist in New York for the monitoring and control of persons convicted of sex offenses who are released from prison?

  3. Have New York officials made appropriate use of existing involuntary commitment laws in cases involving mentally ill persons convicted of crimes and sentenced to prison? How many petitions for involuntary commitment have been brought under such circumstances in New York, and with what result?

  4. It has been estimated that it costs up to $250,000 per year to confine a sex offender under a sex offender civil commitment statute, as opposed to about $30,000 per year to confine a sex offender in a prison cell. How much would a civil commitment system in New York cost? Would those funds be better spent simply incarcerating sex offenders for longer periods of time, including lifetime prison terms in appropriate cases?

  5. Based on the experiences of other states, what percentage of sex offenders in New York would likely be subject to a civil commitment law? To what extent would the lifetime confinement of such offenders promote public safety?

  6. What has been the experience in states with civil commitment laws? Is there evidence that civil commitment laws in other states have reduced the number of sex crimes in those jurisdictions?

  7. In the event a civil commitment statute is implemented in New York, where should such offenders be placed? Should such offenders be placed in the same institutions as mentally ill inmates? Or would New York need to develop an entirely new institutional infrastructure to house such offenders?

  8. In the event a civil commitment statute were enacted in New York, how should that law be structured? What would the standard of proof in such proceedings be? How would initial trial and post-trial appellate proceedings be structured? Which entities would prosecute and defend such cases?

Persons wishing to attend or present testimony at this hearing should complete and return the reply form as soon as possible. It is important that this form be fully completed and returned so that persons may be notified in the event of postponement or cancellation of the hearing.

Oral testimony will be limited to ten minutes in length. In preparing the order of witnesses, the Committee will attempt to accommodate individual requests to speak at particular times in view of special circumstances. This request should be made on the attached reply form or communicated to Committee staff as soon as possible. Ten copies of any prepared statement should be submitted at the hearing registration table.

In order to meet the needs of those who may have a disability, the New York State Assembly, in accordance with its policy of non-discrimination on the basis of disability, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), has made its facilities and services available to all individuals with disabilities. For individuals with disabilities, accommodations will be provided, upon reasonable request, to afford such individuals access and admission to Assembly facilities and activities.

Joseph R. Lentol
Member of Assembly
Chair, Committee on Codes

Jeffrion L. Aubry
Member of Assembly
Chair, Committee on Correction

Peter M. Rivera
Member of Assembly
Chair, Committee on Mental Health,
Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities


Persons wishing to present testimony at this public hearing are requested to complete this reply form as soon as possible and mail it to:

Dominique Tauzin, Counsel
Assembly Committee on Codes
Room 508 Capitol
Albany, New York 12248
Tel:(518) 455-4313
Fax:(518) 455-4128

box I plan to attend the public hearing to be jointly conducted by the Assembly Committee on Codes, Correction and Mental Health on September 20, 2005.

box I would like to make a public statement at the hearing. My statement will be limited to 10 minutes and I will answer any questions which may arise. I will provide 10 copies of my prepared statement.


I will address my remarks to the following subjects:

box I do not plan to attend the above hearing.

box I would like to be added to the Committee mailing list for notices and reports.

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