The Free Press, Mankato, MN


July 16, 2014

Our View: Sex offender case will force policy change

Why it matters: Evidence emerging from a federal case is showing Minnesota's policy on sex offenders must change.

Minnesota’s sex offender policy is on trial before a federally appointed panel in St. Paul and the outcome is not looking good for Minnesota.

The panel of experts appointed by a federal judge’s order is examining Minnesota’s sex offender policies and finding there are a number of clients or cases who really shouldn’t be in the sex offender program. Their so called “treatment” or incarceration is likely unconstitutional.

The panel already has recommended one inmate be freed without conditions. It is looking at up to 10 more who may fit the same criteria. Of the 700 or so people in the program, only one has been released since 1994. That prompted in part, the federal class-action lawsuit brought against the state by lawyers representing several sex offender program participants.

Late last year, a federal judge ruled there were enough questions about the constitutionality of the program that an independent panel of experts was needed to examine the program and make findings about the legality of some of the cases.

It’s not a surprise to many observers that the panel is finding flaws in the program. The panel is expected to make a final ruling at the end of August and will likely find many more cases of unjust incarceration.

Minnesota legislators of both parties knew the federal courts were not going to rule favorably on the Minnesota program. Democrats in both houses proposed bills to begin to reform the program. They did not pass. Gov. Mark Dayton’s Department of Human Services made many administrative changes to the program, some small, some larger.

The more significant plans to put some inmates on conditional release came under fire from Dayton’s political opponents. It being an election year, Dayton backed off as well and now his administration is in the unenviable position of trying to defend the program to the federal panel.

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