The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

May 10, 2013

Sex offender bill draws GOP opposition



Eric Magnuson, former chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, testified that the courts are ready to declare the program unconstitutional (because only one person has ever been released) but can’t say what the courts will do if the Legislature does nothing this year.

But he said “courts don’t sit on lawsuits waiting for states or parties in their own good time to resolve the issues ... if the Legislature doesn’t do it, the federal court will.”

In addition to the every-other-year reviews of inmates conducted by the Department of Human Services, the bill also calls for the use of smaller facilities spread across the state. As it stands, a judge deciding a civil commitment case has two options: Send the person to a prison-like facility in Moose Lake or St. Peter, from which they may never leave, or set them free.

It’s hard to say what these new treatment setting will look like because the department is still in the early stages of soliciting proposals, from both governments and private companies, to house sex offenders.

Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said the proposals so far run the gamut: “Everything from a halfway house model to things that are more secure.”

Magnuson said having more options also helps the treatment process because it allows patients’ responsibilities to be gradually increased.

“You need a transition, a flow. This gives the court a chance to put people in a better location,” he said.

Republicans said the fiscal costs of the bill haven’t been properly vetted, in part because the bill didn’t stop in the House finance committee.

“Do you know how many of these new facilities we’re going to need?” asked Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge.

Jesson said she didn’t know, and declined to guess, because it will depend on where judges decide to send civilly committed people once more options are available.

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