The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Editorials

October 20, 2013

Commissioner deals with state's worst problems

Sex offenders, mentally ill and dangerous pose challenges for Commissioner Lucinda Jesson

Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson has a lot on her plate these days from major reform of sex offender management and facilities to figuring out how to reduce injuries for employees who work with the state’s most dangerous and violent criminals.

When she sat down with Free Press writers and editors recently, she offered a few answers with no illusions about the challenges ahead. Still, she says the state and the department have been making progress on some of the state’s most costly and difficult problems.

With the state and taxpayers staring down a possible federal court order to release sex offenders or at least prove why they seem to be permanently incarcerated, Jesson had hoped the Legislature would have provided the solution through legislation that would have set rules for committing sex offenders, treating, and releasing them that would pass constitutional muster.

Some of that happened in a bipartisan Senate bill last year that stalled in the House. Still, Jesson can and did take actions as a commissioner to address parts of those problems. The sex offender system increased the speed and frequency at which sex offenders are evaluated.

Some of the sex offenders are elderly and sick and have very little mobility and Jesson says they could be put in less restrictive facilities with little risk to the public. She says some use walkers or wheelchairs or are at the end of cancer treatment. Some have IQs of 60. “They don’t need to be in a highly secure, expensive facility.” The department has proposed moving some of them to a facility it already operates in Cambridge.

The department also has just received responses for a request for proposals on setting up less restrictive yet secure community facilities. They’ve ask private providers which of the clients might be safely managed in other facilities.

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