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Book Reviews   |    
The Sexual Predator: Law, Policy, and Evaluation and Treatment
Reviewed by Lillian M. Tidler, M.D.
Psychiatric Services 2001; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.52.3.396
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edited by Anita Schlank, Ph.D., and Fred Cohen, LL.B., LL.M.; Kingston, New Jersey, Civil Research Institute, 1999, 369 pages, $125

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This comprehensive volume captures the salient legal and clinical issues related to the civil commitment of sexual offenders and offers a broad diversity of opinions that is reflective of the controversial nature of this topic. The editors have demonstrated mastery in compiling and interweaving topics from law, psychology, and psychiatry.

The result is a complete overview that provides historical detail, legal background, case law examples, clinicians' viewpoints, and thorough descriptions of state-of-the-art risk assessments and treatment programs. In addition, practical how-to information for attorneys is offered, including a chapter on defending sex offender commitment cases and a chapter devoted to the expert witness report and testimony.

Clinicians will find philosophical stimulation in the book's discussions about implementing legislation consistent with the intended purpose of sexual predator law. Probing questions posed include: "Does the administration, right up to the governor, support the treatment mission of the program, or is effective treatment that might lead to discharge the last thing that public officials want? What will be the stance of the administration if the staff decide that a participant has completed the program? Will the staff be allowed to testify in court to that opinion?"

This theme is extended with the point that clinicians can never state with certainty that a given offender "now has zero risk for reoffense." The dilemma created by the overlap of the legal and mental health systems is well described. Despite the public's wanting sex offenders to be kept off the streets permanently, such an approach would in most cases violate the legal system's protection of individual rights. "As the U.S. Supreme Court made clear in its decision in Hendricks, the present civil commitment of these individuals is legitimized only as long as they are being provided treatment with the aim of release at some point in the future. Therefore, the best hope for resolution of the problem seems to lie with some efforts to educate the public that programs such as the SPTP [sexual predator treatment program] are in the business of risk management rather than problem elimination."

In general, the public outcry after heinous crimes has prompted politicians to fashion today's legislation providing for civil commitment of sexual offenders. Guidelines are needed for those involved in the planning and implementation stages of treatment programs so that the purpose of civil commitment—namely, treatment—is met.

The editors of this volume have met their stated objective of providing the reader with a review of researchers' and clinicians' work on this topic in order to formulate standards for accurate evaluations, risk assessments, and treatment modalities. This is an essential text for psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, attorneys, legislators, judges, and legal researchers involved in the field. It may also serve as an educational resource for interested members of the lay public.

Dr. Tidler is forensic medical director of Central State Hospital in Petersburg, Virginia.

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