In 1982, Terry Allen was charged with sexual assault, but prosecutors offered him what seemed like a way out. No time in prison. No criminal conviction. So Allen went along with it.
“At the time, I thought, well that’s a good deal, and I’ll get right on out,” Allen said. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.”
Allen never faced criminal trial on the sexual assault charges. He was never convicted or sentenced for the alleged crime, but has nonetheless spent almost four decades behind bars. He had agreed to participate in something called a “civil commitment,” which under Illinois law allowed for his indefinite incarceration.
Allen has challenged the constitutionality of that law. His case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, where arguments at times sounded Orwellian. Allen has spent decades in prison, where he has met scores of men similarly imprisoned under the civil commitment law without criminal trials or convictions. Many of those men were locked up by the same prosecutor from a small county in central Illinois.