I caught last night's Louis Theroux doco (or as much as I could, around children who refused to go to bed), and found it really though-provoking. 'A Place for Paedophiles' documented Theroux's visit to Coalinga Mental Hospital in California, a place where about 500 sex offenders are incarcerated. Most have already served prison sentences, but continue to be held at Coalinga (a fortified, secure unit) because they're deemed too dangerous to release.
A treatment programme is made available to Coalinga inmates, but only 30% of them have opted to take part - perhaps because over the hospital's history, only 13 graduates of the programme have been deemed able to be safely released. The majority of the inmates will be there for their whole lives.
I don't have any philosophical objection to preventative detention, if there is no other way to keep the public safe, and if the conditions the detainee is held in are humane. But the thing about the documentary that set me pondering was the way the hospital treated the sex offenders, not by teaching them to resist and deal with their sexual attraction to children, but by trying to train this attraction out of them altogether (with varying amounts of success).
For a start, I wondered if it's actually possible to force yourself to no longer be attracted to something. That's not my experience of sexuality - but then, I don't have illegal sexual desires. Secondly, I didn't understand why therapy didn't focus on equipping offenders to choose not to offend, rather than getting rid of the urge to offend. This implies that the powers that be think of paedophilic urges as a sort of illness that can't be controlled; and if that's the case, paedophilia can't really be considered a crime. People with acceptable sexual urges are deemed to be able to control their behaviour, and are usually expected to do so (although the 'boys will be boys' defence for rape still occurs far more often than it should).
Deep philosophical questions about human sexuality aside, the thing that really struck me about this doco was the inmate who was given the OK to be released into the community. So strong was his commitment not to reoffend that he'd had himself surgically castrated. His social worker had made over 1000 applications to find him a home in the community: no one would have him. I had a great deal of pity for him - but I'm not sure I'd be willing to risk having him as my neighbour, either.