A SURE (Summer Undergraduate Research Experience) Program Feature

“Illinois’ Civil Commitment of Sexually Dangerous Persons: An Analysis of Appellate Court Documents”

Seniors Lidia Montoya and Yessenia Garza, both of whom are double majoring in Psychology and Criminal & Social Justice, are spending their summer researching how Illinois courts and court-appointed psychiatrists determine someone to be a “sexually dangerous person.” The research is part of USF’s SURE program.

“This topic interested me because I believe that not a lot of people are aware of policies and laws that affect the community in which they live. As part of the education process as both a psychology and criminal & social justice major here at USF, I get to explore the criminal justice system as well as the psychological implications and ethics involved with some of the policies, which is why when I heard of civil commitment, it intrigued both of my educational backgrounds and it immediately raised one important question: How is a person in civil commitment deemed recovered? That main question is something that is important in our research endeavors because it will provide an explanation for the implementation of civil commitment for sex offenders,” said Montoya.

The Research Process

As part of the SURE project, Garza and Montoya, together with their faculty member Stacy Dewald, Ph.D., are analyzing data from Lexis Uni, a legal document database of sexually dangerous persons cases that have been appealed, which can be filtered to review the cases in Illinois. That has resulted in 365 cases, which the group is coding for characteristics such as gender and age of victim and offender, jurisdiction, if a mental disorder is present, etc.

“Essentially, we are trying to see if there are any significant similarities or differences and if there are any similarities that lead to a specific decision on the appeal,” Montoya explained.

Undergraduate research feature: Lidia Montoya and Yessenia Garza

Relevant Research for Illinois

Sexually dangerous persons can appeal the decisions of the circuit court regarding their civil commitment hearings. This study seeks to research these appellate court cases and examine the relationship between outcomes of the cases and certain variables (e.g., evidence presented, number of disorders, number of victims).

“Finding more information will be beneficial in understanding this topic, especially because it is such a sensitive topic, ethically and for social policy,” said Montoya.

It will be interesting to hear the final findings, which will be presented at the SURE Scholars Day (TBD) and ACCA Undergraduate Research Symposium in April 2020.

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