The Free Press, Mankato, MN

St. Peter news

December 18, 2013

Judge weighs merits of sex offender program

Lawyer for offenders says program "shocks the conscience"

(Continued)

Frank said he would decide on the motions within 60 days, just before the Legislature reconvenes next year.

In the past, courts have not been generous to individuals who challenged their confinement, said William Mitchell College of Law Dean Eric Janus, a long-time critic of the program. But he notes that the latest lawsuit challenges the system as a whole.

"We're dealing with a different situation here, where you have a 20-year period, 700 people, and a very clearly established action by the state," said Janus, a member of a court-appointed task force that recently recommended less restrictive treatment options.

The recommendations include giving judges the option of sending sex offenders who have completed their sentences to less restrictive treatment programs instead of to prison-like treatment facilities where most are detained indefinitely.

The task force also recommends establishing a screening unit independent of the state departments of Human Services and Corrections to evaluate sex offenders who might meet the criteria for commitment every two years.

State Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, said she does not want Frank to impose a solution.

"What I'd really like to see the judge do, is give the Legislature a strong signal about his intentions and give us some time to respond," said Liebling, who is working on legislation to adopt the task force's recommendations. "Because it's really our job to deal with this program. We were not elected to punt on decisions like this."

Nearly all of the people in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program are held at its facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter. Most have spent time in prison.

But others haven't. Among them is 26-year-old Craig Bolte, one of the sex offenders challenging the state's civil commitment law.

As a toddler, Bolte suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a relative. At age 15, he sexually abused his younger sister, according to court documents. He also propositioned an 11-year-old girl and threatened to kill her father. Bolte was sent to several juvenile treatment programs. When he was 19, a judge deemed Bolte a sexually dangerous person and sent him away for further treatment in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.

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