WASHINGTON – Maryland officials said the “small number” of sexual offenders who were hospitalized after their prison terms ended will not be affected by a Supreme Court ruling this week against a similar Kansas law.
The high court ruled 7-2 Tuesday that states cannot arbitrarily commit a violent sexual offender to a mental hospital after his prison sentence is served, without first proving that he cannot control his criminal sexual behavior.
Maryland already meets that standard, said officials with the state departments of public safety and health. They estimated that there are a small number of sex offenders who were committed after serving their prison terms, but that those people were committed because they have “diagnosable cases of mental illness” and not just because of their crimes.
“Inmates won’t be released from Maryland’s prisons based on this ruling,” said Leonard A. Sipes, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
Larry Fitch, the director of forensic services at the state’s Mental Hygiene Administration, agreed that Maryland “won’t have to be concerned about rewriting our laws.”
Dwight Sullivan, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said he was “very pleased” with the court’s ruling, and agreed that it will have no impact in Maryland.
Fitch said the state usually has 10 or 12 violent criminals at the Clifton T. Perkins maximum-security facility near Jessup, “as nice a psychiatric hospital as any in the state.” There, they can receive individual, group and vocational therapy, Fitch said, and once their illnesses are “in check” they are released.
Sipes could not say how many sex offenders are currently hospitalized in Maryland, but estimated that it is “a small number.”
Fitch, who also teaches mental health law at the University of Maryland, said the Kansas law is really only useful in states that have weak sentencing statutes. He said Maryland law is strong enough to keep even first-time sexual offenders off the streets for long periods: Someone convicted of rape or a first-degree sex offense in Maryland serves 25 to 30 years behind bars, on average.
Despite the ruling, Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said he still thinks Maryland needs a law similar to that in Kansas to deal with inmates who have serious difficulty controlling their criminal sexual behavior.
Curran said only 30 to 40 inmates annually would require such consideration.
“Not everyone is going to be deemed as a sexual predator — you’re going to have to have a pretty high bar,” he said.
The General Assembly has killed bills modeled after the Kansas law in each of the last two years. The sponsor of those bills, Delegate Sue Hecht, D- Frederick, said she will instead introduce a bill this session calling for a sentence of life without parole for repeat sex offenders.
Curran said he remains convinced that incarceration alone is not the way to correct repeat sex offenders.
“Studies show their urges or desires don’t go away in prison,” Curran said. “I go on the side of public safety.”