The US justice system is punishing child-porn consumers in an unusual way—for crimes they may one day commit, writes Rachel Aviv in The New Yorker. Using sex crime laws that first arose in the 1980s, officials have discarded First Amendment protections for child porn users, and now keep prisoners locked away if they seem unable to refrain from sexual violence or child molestation. But that hinges on unreliable psychological tests that can leave inmates rotting in cells or treatment centers for much of their lives. In 2007, for example, about 4,500 sex offenders had been civilly committed, and just over 10% had been let go.
The New Yorker follows the plight of a man named John, who at age 31 started downloading child pornography and rendezvoused with an underage girl with the intention of having sex. John insists he's never had sex with a minor, but his 53-month sentence has dragged on for several more years because of negative psychological evaluations. He ended up in a treatment center called Butner, where patients are known to exaggerate their sex crimes to avoid being sent back to prison—where sex criminals are generally treated like dirt. John refuses to invent crimes he's never committed, and can't believe his thoughts are enough to keep him locked away. "There is definitely something wrong with me," he admits. "But it's not the thing they're locking me up for." Click for the full article. (Read more sex crime stories.)