The Free Press, Mankato, MN


January 1, 2013

Sex offender program change still urgent

Why it matters: The Legislature still faces pressure from federal courts to reform the sex offender program or risk legal action

When a task force commissioned by a federal court makes further recommendations at the end of this year for Minnesota to reform its sex offender program, the pressure on the Legislature to do so will be turned up a notch.

That’s because last year the task force made recommendations and the Legislature was not able to pass any of them. While the Senate passed a bipartisan bill that addressed some of the issues, a similar bill only passed one House committee, and that without any Republican votes.

The pressure on the Legislature will be turned up this year given the comments of former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, who was appointed to a panel directed by the federal courts to recommend changes to the program.

That task force was established as an intermediate step in a pending class action court case where federal courts were siding with several patients or inmates of Minnesota sex offender facilities.

Magnuson told a Legislative committee last year the courts were ready to declare the program unconstitutional, but couldn’t say what would happen should the Legislature fail to act and adopt some of the court recommendations.

While the Legislature failed to act, the Minnesota Department of Human Services has made some administrative progress on its own and taken steps that likely have the task force seeing that the state is at least trying to adopt some of its recommendations.

The task force, which also includes former federal Judge James Rozenbaum, was formed when a federal court suggested in a class action case that the state was a very shaky constitutional grounds running a sex offender program where for decades not one patient had been released.

The task force recommended Minnesota develop a continuum of dealing with sex offenders that expanded options beyond full commitment or full release. The court recommended intermediate treatment steps be developed and the state establish less restrictive facilities.

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