ST. PAUL — In the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center, sex offenders and the mentally ill share the lower campus, below the bluff and just north of Highway 169.
“We don’t think that’s an appropriate place to be for the long term,” Chuck Johnson, chief financial officer of the state’s Department of Human Services, told the Senate bonding committee Wednesday.
Safety problems are worsened by the buildings’ older style of construction, including narrow hallways and the lack of sight-lines to common areas.
“For patients to feel comfortable, they need to know who’s around the next corner,” Johnson said.
The sex offender program is also growing at about 50 people a year and without new beds it will run out of room in about two years.
Human services officials gave their pitch Wednesday for $51.15 million in bonding funds, which they say will help solve those three problems — the mixing of the mentally ill and sex offenders, unsafe building design and an upcoming bed shortage.
Most of the senators seemed to support the request, but there were questions about spending so much money during a court-ordered review of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.
Sen. James Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, said most of the human services officials talked about waiting for reports and discussing reforms.
“It seems to me that you’re putting the horse before the cart,” he said. He worried about the committee spending money while the facility’s future is debated.
Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, agreed, asking state corrections and public safety officials to testify before major decisions about the Minnesota Sex Offender Program are made.
He said the program costs $300 per person each day, compared with $100 daily for prisoners, and said it “has to rank up there with one of the most unsuccessful programs we’ve ever dreamed up.”