The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

May 1, 2013

Sex offender program reforms advance in Senate

The essential problem with the Minnesota Sex Offender Program is that it’s like a Venus fly trap — people get in, but they don’t get out, said Eric Magnuson, former chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court.

“It is largely indefensible that no one goes through this system and is released. If not indefensible, a real serious problem,” he told a state Senate committee Tuesday.

Sen. Kathy Sheran has authored a bill to begin reforms to the program, which is based in St. Peter and Moose Lake. It was heard and unanimously approved by a human services finance committee Tuesday morning.

“We would like to see some cost savings, but mostly what my bill is about is being responsive to the requirements of the court,” said Sheran, D-Mankato.

In response to a complaint challenging the constitutionality of the program, a federal court in 2012 ordered the creation of a task force to provide reports to the Legislature about the sex offender program. The task force’s first report was released in December and Sheran’s bill is based on its recommendations.

And the court action is no idle threat, Magnuson said.

“This is not a frivolous lawsuit,” he said.

“The federal court has been very patient but it will not be patient much longer. And the last thing the state of Minnesota wants, I believe, is to let the federal government start running this program,” Magnuson said.

Sheran’s bill doesn’t entirely solve those constitutional problems, though she says it’s a start that shows the  federal court that the Legislature is serious about reforms.

One of those problems is that Minnesota courts have an all-or-nothing choice when deciding to commit sex offenders; it’s commitment in a highly-secured facility or total freedom.

The bill directs the state to develop so-called “less-restrictive alternatives,” for which the state has already sought bids from governments and nonprofits. There is also a hope that these new treatment models will be more effective. As of March 31, there were 683 people in the sex offender program, but only one person has been released. About 10 people are now in the final stages of treatment.

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