ST. PAUL — Saying an established process had succumbed to politicization, Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday ordered his administration to oppose future provisional releases of sex offenders until the Legislature has time to change Minnesota's legally embattled treatment program.
The change in course was conveyed in a letter to Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson and later explained by Dayton at a news conference. It comes days after a GOP gubernatorial hopeful accused Democrat of putting public safety at risk, raising the likelihood it'll become an election issue next year.
"It was just made clear that this was an issue that would be seized upon and abused by some who don't mind scaring the people of Minnesota for their own advantage," Dayton said. "We just can't proceed in that environment."
Dayton's decision won't affect three discharge appeals currently in the court pipeline, including one from convicted rapist Thomas Duvall. His case drew renewed attention to the potential of indefinitely committed sex offenders moving back into the community with close supervision. Dayton and his administration allowed Duvall's appeal to go forward despite objection from victims and Attorney General Lori Swanson, a fellow Democrat.
The policy of opposing future applications for supervised release, he said, will be frozen while the Legislature considers program changes in the 2014 session. Dayton is also suspending the planned transfer of some lesser-risk sex offenders to a residential facility in Cambridge.
State officials are facing pressure in a federal lawsuit to end the practice of unlimited treatment terms for patients in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program. There's a chance the entire program could be invalidated — and those in it set free — on grounds it amounts to a backdoor life sentence.
The 698 people in the program have been civilly committed in secure facilities after completing prison terms and are receiving treatment. The treatment is supposed to lead to eventual reintroduction into society, but only one offender has been released. The state has currently capacity for 789 offenders at once, meaning space concerns could become paramount.