Factors predicting recommendations for civil commitment of sexually violent predators under Florida's Jimmy Ryce Act

Jill S Levenson, Florida International University


This study investigated the factors considered by forensic examiners when evaluating sexually violent predators (SVP) for civil commitment under Florida's “Jimmy Ryce Act.” The project was funded by a pre-doctoral research grant awarded by the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA). This study proposed two specific research questions. First, what is the direct relationship between actuarial risk assessment scores and recommendations for sex offender civil commitment? Second, which other variables are likely to influence SVP commitment decisions, and to what degree? The purpose of the study was to determine if risk assessment practices are evidence-based, and whether offenders selected for commitment meet statutory criteria. The purposive sample of 450 SVPs was drawn from the population of sex offenders evaluated for civil commitment in Florida between July 1, 2000 and June 30, 2001. Data were extracted from SVP evaluations provided by the Florida Department of Children and Families. Using multivariate logistic regression, this correlational research design examined the relationship between the dependent variable, commitment decision, and several sets of independent variables. The independent variables were derived from a review of the literature, and were grouped conceptually according to their degree of correlation with sex offense recidivism. Independent variables included diagnoses, actuarial risk assessment scores, empirically validated static and dynamic risk factors, consensus based risk factors, evaluator characteristics, and demographics. This study investigated the degree to which the identified variables predicted civil commitment decisions. Logistic regression results revealed that the statistically significant predictors of recommendations for sex offender civil commitment were actuarial risk assessment scores, diagnoses of Pedophilia and Paraphilia NOS, psychopathy, younger age of victim, and non-minority race. Discriminant function analysis confirmed that these variables correctly predicted commitment decisions in 90% of cases. It appears that civil commitment evaluators in Florida used empirically-based assessment procedures, and did not make decisions that were heavily influenced by extraneous factors. SVPs recommended for commitment consistently met the criteria set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Hendricks v. Kansas (1997): they suffered from a mental abnormality predisposing them to sexual violence, and risk assessment determined that they were likely to reoffend.

Subject Area

Social work|Criminology|Psychotherapy

Recommended Citation

Levenson, Jill S, "Factors predicting recommendations for civil commitment of sexually violent predators under Florida's Jimmy Ryce Act" (2003). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3085817.