The Justice Department has sought to indefinitely detain 136 "sexually dangerous" sex offenders under a controversial law enacted six years ago that allows them to be locked up for good if three things are proven: the crime was child molestation or an act of sexual violence, the offender has a mental disorder, and he will have "serious difficulty" avoiding future sex crimes. But a USA Today investigation finds that courts have approved the indefinite detainment of just 15 of those men. More often, offenders are imprisoned for years at the Butner, NC, federal prison while awaiting trial; 61 of the cases have ultimately been dropped or lost while dozens of other men still await a court date. And very few of them receive any treatment while waiting.
Despite the problems, the Justice Department has offered no public assessment of the law's effectiveness, though a federal appeals court has noted the "troubling" delays in bringing the prisoners to trial. There are also reportedly problems with the government's assessment of which sexual offenders are the most dangerous; at least two times, the government was not able to prove any crimes serious enough to merit commitment, and a psychologist who once ran the commitment system called the review process that initially identified the most serious offenders "rushed." See the full investigation for individual stories.