Sunday, November 17, 2013

MN - Sex-offender civil commitments bring out worst in politicians

Whipping boy
Original Article


By Ruben Rosario

Sex offenders, the modern-day lepers of society and a politician's favorite whipping boy, are back in the news.

We're talking about Minnesota's almost 700 men and one woman civilly committed after most served their prison sentences and were deemed too dangerous to be released from secure prison-like state treatment facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter. Detainees include about 50 who were civilly committed as juveniles but never convicted of crimes as an adult.

In what could turn out to be violations of their constitutional rights, they are essentially serving life sentences without parole. That was supposedly never the intent of civil commitment laws, but that's how it's playing out here. In nearly two decades since the program began, only one sex offender has been conditionally released. Minnesota is the nation's leader in indefinitely detaining such offenders after they have completed their prison terms.

As a survivor of childhood sex abuse, I can say that I detest these types of criminals and offenders. I know what these predators rob from their victims. But another thing I detest is political grandstanding.

Gov. Mark Dayton was right when he called the latest flap a "political circus" after Minnesota Rep. Kurt Zellers, a former House speaker and a 2014 Republican gubernatorial hopeful, blasted him for not opposing a decision to conditionally release a serial rapist from Moose Lake to a less restrictive environment. He called Dayton's stand "insensitive" to the feelings of the rapist's numerous victims.

That's an easy-to-make and disingenuous low blow, in my book. But Dayton added to the political shenanigans by freezing any conditional discharges in the future until the Legislature takes up the issue for review in the coming session.

Say what? That body had a chance to do something constructive on this issue earlier this year and failed miserably.

In response to a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of the sex offenders locked up in Moose Lake and St. Peter, a nonpartisan civil commitment advisory task force was created late last year. Made up of some of the brightest legal, judicial and legislative minds in the state, it reviewed the civil commitment and referral process for sex offenders as well as less restrictive commitment options and other ways to reform what is now the indefinite incarceration and warehousing of these folks in prison-like environments. Its initial recommendations to the Legislature and the state Department of Human Services, which runs the facilities, included creation of adequate funding for less-secure residential facilities to become operational within a "reasonable period of time."

Other recommendations were adopted in a proposed bill passed in the Senate earlier this year. It died an expected death in the highly partisan House. Most Democrats supported the reforms proposed; most Republicans opposed them.

The advisory task force members' final report to DHS is scheduled to be issued Dec. 1. Given the history, they might as well roll it up in a big ball and throw it into the nearest wastebasket.

And that would be a shame. This highly emotional, volatile and complex problem requires true leadership bereft of politics. It requires well-intentioned people who can put aside their own visceral views and come up with a plan that best ensures public safety while not violating constitutional rights.


The reality is that politics will be nearly impossible to strip from the process. No one on either side of the aisle wants to be blamed in the event one of these offenders is released outright, goes out and reoffends. Imagine an opponent's campaign ad. That is the one main reason why virtually no one has come out from these facilities. But the law of the land says we can't indefinitely lock up people who already served their time if they are deemed ready to be released after treatment. We're not talking about the worst of the worst, the ones who will never be rehabilitated and should never be released.

So, it will go down as it did 20 years ago in Washington, the first state to pass a civil commitment law. Its program came under a federal court consent decree four years later because of its reluctance to release folks deemed treatable and ready for release. The decree, which lasted nearly 13 years, ended up forcing changes the state should have legislatively made on its own.

Dan Gustafson, the court-appointed attorney who filed the class-action lawsuit, said he was "disappointed" at the fear-mongering antics and conduct of both the legislative and executive leadership on an important state constitutional issue.

"All rhetoric aside, I feel there is no intention at all to make any changes absent a federal ruling on this," he said Friday. "Right now, they do not have the political will to do what they all know they should do."

A critical hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for Dec. 18 in front of U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank.

I don't blame any victim of these folks for wanting to keep them in confinement. But if raw emotions dictated laws, there would be bodies lying on the street and chaos.

Unless there are grown-ups in the Legislature this year, I predict some officeholders will find it convenient once again to be derelict in their duties on this issue and allow a federal judge in St. Paul to play the fall guy and do their work for them.


Loneranger said...

This doesn't surprise many I'm sure. Politicians will lie to pass things like this and then after it grows into a giant mess want to hide from what they should have done in the first place. Tell the truth. But they would rather stand there and spout the same crap. What about the victims? Well the way the system works is. You commit a crime. they prosecute to find you guilty. Then a judge sentences you to what he feels balances the scales. End of story. The victim gets their pound of flesh as determined by the judge for what was lost. Might not be as much as they wanted but really they got what they got and that's it. This is why the victim doesn't do the sentencing as it is never enough. We can not keep adding to the sentences with life time in civil commitment to some how give the victim yet another pound of flesh when a judge already gave them the first one. So they really need to stop blaming the victim to cover their inability to do their jobs without bias that is always to protect themselves. So as it goes with all sex offender laws they will leave it up to a judge to say if it is constitutional and keep passing more and more laws knowing they really are not but will see if it works to make them the hero and then maybe in ten or twenty years when they get out of office they won't need to deal with the mess. However someone needs to. So let the judges look like the bad guy and that in it's self is bias as it just needs to be constitutional and whats wrong with that.

disqus_uoa6Nyfpoq said...

I'm not sure it has to do with your pound of flesh argument as much as it has to do with the politicians' and public's sincere fear of high-risk sex offenders. I think the original intent was based on public safety, but at the expense of the already marginalized population of sex offenders. They figured they'd rather give lifetime commitment to too many rather than not enough. Did they ever intend to give these individuals a lifetime of treatment? Maybe or maybe not, but treatment costs money and sex offenders that are committed for life are probably the last ones that will see it.
It is my experience and opinion that the entire correctional (and treatment/rehabilitation) system is based on the idea of "not on my watch". The entire system works incredibly hard to prevent an individual from reoffending while in the system, but does next to nothing to help the offender reintegrate. When it comes to sex offenders, the attitude is that they are not reintegratable and things like registration and civil commitment are the only answers.
The saddest part of the whole issue is that once a judge releases some of these individuals to lower level care, the many successes will never be brought to the public's attention. It'll be the 5% that reoffend that will gain the public's attention.