civil commitment or involuntary commitment, process by which a court determines whether or not to order an individual to receive treatment or care or be confined. A person may be committed after a hearing if a court finds that an individual has a mental disorder and as a result is or is likely to become dangerous to himself or herself or others or is not capable of providing for his or her health and safety. The reasons for civil commitment and the persons who may initiate a civil commitment proceeding vary, but generally a person may be considered to have a mental disorder if he or she is mentally ill, is mentally disabled, has an addiction, or has a sexual psychopathic personality. A person may be committed to a public or private hospital, an outpatient facility, or other treatment facility. The goal of civil commitment is protect the individual and society and provide treatment, not punish, and a civil commitment is not a criminal conviction. Many U.S. states as well as the federal government have since 1990 enacted laws that allow for the civil commitment and mandatory treatment of sex offenders who have completed their prison terms. Such laws have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, but they have been criticized for failing in practice to provide appropriate treatment that would not make such laws punitive. In 2015 Minnesota's civil commitment program for sex offenders was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in part because no person in the program had been fully discharged since its establishment.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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