Thursday, April 11, 2013

MN - Sex-offender program changes reviewed by Minnesota House committee

Venus Flytrap
Original Article

04/10/2013

By Megan Boldt

A bill that would rehab a program for Minnesota's most dangerous sex offenders got its first hearing Wednesday, April 10, in the Minnesota House.

If passed, the bill would require the state to offer more cost-effective treatment alternatives rather than housing all civilly committed sex offenders at the state's high-security treatment center in Moose Lake.

Almost 700 offenders are in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program at a cost of about $120,000 per patient annually -- three times the average inmate cost. Most already have served prison sentences and were court-committed after their release from prison.

Minnesota has yet to treat and fully discharge a sex offender from the program in two decades, leaving it open to criticism and vulnerable to legal challenges such as a class-action lawsuit filed over the summer by several sex offenders. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that state and federal sex offender civil commitment laws are constitutional, as long as the intent is to treat and rehabilitate.

"It's a really tough issue to crack because of the politics," said Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester. "The signal is loud and clear that if we don't do something ourselves as a Legislature, then the federal court may do that for us and we might not like what the court decides to do."

The House Judiciary Committee took its first look at the bill Wednesday. No votes were taken.

Minnesota is one of 20 states with civil-commitment programs for sex offenders. In 2010, it had the highest number of civilly committed sex offenders per capita, said former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, chairman of a state task force that is examining the issue.

James Rosenbaum, a retired federal judge who also serves as the task force's vice chairman, compared Minnesota's sex-offender program to a Venus flytrap.

"You get into it and you don't get out. And that's the system we have," Rosenbaum said. "It is not sustainable financially, it is not sustainable legally, and it is not sustainable constitutionally."

The bill, which is based on the task force's recommendations, doesn't change the standard for commitment to the sex-offender program. But it does give judges two choices once someone is committed.

An offender would be evaluated within 60 days of being committed to determine whether he or she should be placed on strict and intensive supervision and treatment or placed in a secure treatment facility. The court would make a final decision based on that evaluation within 30 days.

If a person is placed under intensive supervision and treatment, the sex-offender program must come up with a plan within 60 days that ensures "the safety of the public while meeting the treatment needs of the civilly committed patient." If the sex offender violates conditions of the plan, he or she could be placed in a secure facility.

Offenders would be examined every two years by an outside evaluator to determine if they are making progress toward treatment goals and whether they pose a risk to the public. That progress report would be used to determine if a new course of treatment is needed or whether the patient has made enough progress to be released from the program.

The big unanswered questions ahead are whether Minnesota has enough providers to administer the intense supervision and treatment, and how much it will cost.

Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, said that his concerns probably are premature but that he worries counties will have to pick up the "lion's share" of the cost unless the state will be reimbursing them for some of the expenses.

Magnuson said the services should be quite a bit less, noting the $120,000 annual cost for each sex offender in Minnesota's secured facilities.

"It's hard to spend more money than the state is spending now," Magnuson said.

Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said her department already has sent out a request for information to survey how many providers are willing to provide services; 21 public and private providers from across the state expressed interest.

In the next several weeks, the agency will issue requests for proposals to see what type of services providers would be willing to offer and how much they would charge.

"We're confident the providers are there. Now we just have to see what types of services they're willing to provide," Jesson said.

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