The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

December 18, 2013

Judge weighs merits of sex offender program

Lawyer for offenders says program "shocks the conscience"

Attorneys representing nearly 700 sex offenders asked a federal judge today to declare the Minnesota Sex Offender Program unconstitutional.

The hearing before U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank marked the latest step in a class-action lawsuit challenging the program, in which offenders deemed too dangerous to release are detained under civil commitment for treatment, even after serving prison time.

In their lawsuit — the Minnesota Sex Offender program's "clients" — as the state calls them — say they have little chance of release, and that their indefinite detention violates their 14th Amendment right to due process as well as other constitutional guarantees.

Their attorney, Dan Gustafson, said the fact that only one person has been provisionally discharged in the program's 20-year history "shocks the conscience."

After the hearing, Gustafson said the Minnesota Sex Offender Program is under intense political pressure to keep people locked up.

"The decisions that are being made by MSOP are based on security of the public first and treatment second," Gustafson said. "And so what we need to have is a system where the treatment takes at least an equal role with security, if not a primary role, so these people can be treated and released."

Gustafson, who concedes that the program helps protect the public, said he is not asking the court to shut it down and release all of the detainees immediately.

The plaintiffs want Frank to appoint a special master to oversee the program. They're also requesting a review of all the clients' cases and want the judge to order the state to provide less restrictive treatment options for offenders who qualify.

Deputy Minnesota Attorney General Nathan Brennaman told the judge the detainees do not have a fundamental right to treatment, or even less restrictive options. Brennaman also said the plaintiffs failed to show harm to any individual offender.

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