Two experiments find that support for civil commitment procedures for sexually violent predators is based primarily upon the retributive rather than incapacitative goals of respondents. Two discrete samples composed of students (N = 175) and jury-eligible citizens (N = 200) completed experimental surveys assessing their support or opposition to scenarios in which a sexual predator was to be released after completing his criminal sentence. Respondents were sensitive to likelihood of recidivism only when the initial sentence was sufficiently punitive. When initial sentence was lenient, respondents strongly supported civil commitment without regard to future risk. Results are discussed in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Kansas v. Hendricks (1997) on the constitutionality of civil commitment laws for sexually violent predators.

Kevin M. Carlsmith, Alison Evans & John T. Monahan, The Function of Punishment in the “Civil” Commitment of Sexually Violent Predators, 25 Behavioral Sciences & the Law 437–448 (2007).