The case for Minnesota Legislators to reform the sex offender commitment procedure was made stronger Monday when former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Eric Magnuson suggested to legislators they risk all sex offenders being released if they don’t act.
We hope that was a wake-up call not only for those Legislators who seek to politicize the issue in the next election, but also those who want to hold on to untenable solutions like increasing prison sentences which won’t affect any of the 700 offenders now in the system.
Magnuson, who is on the federal task force charged with recommending changes to the law, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that a federal judge could very well rule Minnesota’s commitment law unconstitutional and require release of some 700 sex offenders in state institutions.
There appears to be a small window of opportunity to change the law. Magnuson suggested if the Legislature doesn’t get it done this next session, which is short, the federal courts are likely to act. They have a history of having little patience with dawdling and politically hogtied legislators.
In California, Magnuson pointed out, the U.S. Supreme Court required the release of some 30,000 inmates because it determined overcrowded California prisons amounted to “cruel and unusual” punishment.
The case pending before the federal courts in Minnesota brought by more than a dozen offenders is a class action that argues the treatment at the sex offender facilities is inadequate and inhumane. Their case is bolstered by the fact that for two decades some 700 offenders have been civilly committed and only one has been released.
Federal Judge Donovan Frank will have a hearing Dec. 18 on the class action case. Last year he ordered Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson to form the task force to come up with less restrictive conditions for holding and releasing sex offenders. That panel made recommendations last year and Jesson adopted some of them in small ways. That panel, headed by Magnuson, will make final recommendations to the Legislature Dec. 1.