Sexually violent predator (SVP) laws are inherently suspicious because they continue to incarcerate people not because of what they have done, but because of what they might do. I focus on three major criticisms of the laws. First, I use recent recidivism data to challenge the core motivation for the SVP laws—that sex offenders are monsters who cannot control themselves. Second, I situate the laws theoretically as examples of what Feeley and Simon call the “new penology. ” I argue that the SVP laws show the limited promise of the new penology— that we can use science to predict risk accurately—because the actuarial instruments used in SVP determinations make many mistakes. In making this argument, I focus particularly on the most commonly used such instrument, the Static-99. Finally, I argue that the Static-99 fails to meet the constitutional criteria laid out by the U.S. Supreme Court in Kansas v. Hendricks because it does not link an individual's mental illness to his dangerousness.
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