The Free Press
— Now that a task force has made its recommendations on how to revamp the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, state lawmakers need to make tough decisions on how to fix a program that is obviously broken.
Minnesota’s all-or-nothing approach to dealing with sex offenders has backed the state into a corner — a crowded and expensive one.
When judges have to decide to lock up people indefinitely based on their potential to commit crimes, it means the state is saddled with a large, expensive population of offenders.
Beyond the questionable constitutionality of locking up people for crimes they could commit vs. have committed, the secure setting the offenders are kept in is expensive. Each offender costs $120,000 annually — nearly four times the cost of housing a prison inmate. The state is housing about 670 offenders at the two facilities in St. Peter and Moose Lake compared to 181 a decade ago, reports Minnesota Public Radio News.
Since the program was created in 1994, only two people were released — only one who is still free. So as we keep adding to that population, the problem continues to grow. Minnesota has the highest per-capita rate of civil commitments in the country, according to Politics in Minnesota.
The task force appointed to examine the problem was formed as a result of lawsuits filed by civilly committed offenders in the program. A federal judge ordered the state to figure out a better system — or the courts will take action.
Rep. Terry Morrow of St. Peter was being realistic when he said lawmakers have a difficult task ahead them to balance public safety with the rights of sex offenders — and finding the funding to do it. But he knows, as well as do other lawmakers and state officials, that the way sex offenders are now treated in Minnesota is not the norm. Most states have a variety of options, including a combination of halfway houses, low-security facilities and high-security facilities.
Lawmakers must figure out the best formula for Minnesota in providing protection but also providing more opportunities for rehabilitation. Teenage offenders who are civilly committed indefinitely especially make that a concern.
The Legislature must tackle the revamping of the sex offenders program as a bipartisan issue. Not-in-my-backyard attitudes can’t railroad the establishment of regional facilities to place offenders. If Minnesota doesn’t want to be told how to fix the problem by federal authorities, then it’s up to our lawmakers to take the action necessary to avoid that.