Civil Confinement Keeps Juvenile Offenders Imprisoned in New Jersey

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Because too many low-income people are unable to post bail, New Jersey is now requiring judges to consider a scientific tool that weighs the risk of each defendant's release before trial

A recent investigation by The Marshall Project explores what some say is a gray area of the law: civil confinement.

Reporters George Steptoe and Antoine Goldet looked into the case of Jhon Sanchez, who began serving time at a New Jersey juvenile detention facility five years ago, for a series of sex offenses he committed when he was 13. When he was released, Sanchez returned to his home in West New York. 

But two days later, parole officers showed up at his home and took him away. He's now being held indefinitely, and involuntarily, under the legal categorization of civil confinement. It's a classification critics say is unconstitutional.

Essentially, they say, a person can be held without being given a release date.

"We spoke to people who work in civil commitment programs and they say that that can irrevocably harm people, because if you've got no release date, you know, you can't form meaningful friendships outside of other people who've been determined to be a sexually-violent predator, you don't have a job. It's impossible to learn to become a functioning member of society," Steptoe said.

In this interview, WNYC's Richard Hake talks to Steptoe about civil confinement, and why, despite a re-evaluation of the criminal justice system by Democrats and Republicans, the issue still isn't getting much attention.