By Christian M. Wade . . . BOSTON — More than 120 “dangerous” sex offenders have been released under a 2008 Supreme Judicial Court ruling that keeps them from being locked up if at least two “qualified medical examiners” determine they’re no longer a threat, according to state data.
The state Department of Correction currently oversees about 130 sexually dangerous prisoners held under civil commitments. Most are housed at a medium security treatment center at the Bridgewater Correctional Complex.
From 2009 to Oct. 1, 2020, at least 123 individuals were released from the program because the state lacked “sufficient evidence” under the SJC’s ruling to keep them locked up, according to state records.
Another 75 individuals were discharged after a jury determined that they were no longer sexually dangerous.
Details about the cases were not available, and it isn’t clear from Department of Correction records if the individuals were set free or transferred to other facilities.
The SJC’s 2008 ruling that called for their release involved convicted child rapist George Johnstone, of Fall River, who pleaded guilty in 1992 to two counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14.
Johnstone was sent to prison for 10 years. Afterward his sentence was complete, he was held under the state’s civil commitment law, which allows for the jailing of sex offenders deemed to be a public danger, and required to undergo sex offender treatment.
Johnstone petitioned for release in 2003, and the case went to trial three years later.
Two medical examiners testified that Johnstone was no longer sexually dangerous. The high court rejected an argument by the state that he should be held anyway, saying it lacked the expert testimony needed to keep him locked up.
In doing so, the SJC set a precedent that the state must have testimony from at least one examiner saying someone is sexually dangerous in order to prompt a trial to determine if that person continues to be held.