By Barbara Reyelts
Moose Lake - Pushed by a class action lawsuit, and rapidly rising costs, Minnesota is looking for options to its sex offender treatment program.
A task force met in St. Paul this week to look at less restrictive ways to treat sex offenders while still keeping the public safe.
The Minnesota Sex Offender Treatment Program in Moose Lake houses the state's largest population of civilly committed predatory sex offenders.
A smaller population is housed in St. Peter.
Since 1994 Minnesota sex offenders, deemed most likely to re–offend, can be civilly committed after their prison sentences are done.
Their time of lock up is indefinite and since the program began there's only been one person successfully released.
That's raised concerns, not only among residents, but throughout the state.
“It begs a question if you have a treatment program then there's a presumption that somebody's going to get well and be done being treated at some point,” Dan Cain, of the Mpls. Sex Offender Rehabilitation Program. “So far that's not been the case."
Last year MSOP residents filed a class action lawsuit claiming their constitutional rights were being violated because they had already served their court ordered punishment but were still locked up. The Minnesota Civil Liberties Union agrees.
“You can't put people in jail for crimes they haven't yet committed, there's a presumption of innocence in the state constitution,” Chuck Samuelson, Executive Director of MN Civil Liberties Union said.
And it's not just the lawsuit prompting the call for change, it's also the expense of the program.
Each of the current 669 residents costs the state $120,000 a year. The facility has a total annual budget of $73 M.
Last month a task force was created to come up with recommendations for the legislature to develop new programs to treat predatory offenders.
“I think it will be an interesting discussion,” Senator Roger Reinert, DFL of Duluth said. “Does the legislature look at this from people's rights, the civil rights that we all have regardless.To me that will be the interesting conversation when the legislature looks at the recommendations and tries to look at other ideas. Will it be a policy conversation or will it be a political conversation.”
Among the recommendations are the creation of smaller group homes, outpatient centers and other treatment programs throughout the state.
Predatory rapists may not actually wind up committed to MSOP if they are compliant, go through treatment, show remorse, admit their crime.
Panel members recognize this is going to be a tough sell with many concerned about public safety if predatory sex offenders are released into less restrictive settings. Lawmakers plan to meet over the several few weeks to develop a course of action.
Minnesota State Commissioner of Human Services, Lucinda Jesson, will work with lawmakers in developing a more acceptable, affordable program.