The Free Press, Mankato, MN

St. Peter news

December 4, 2012

Sex offender task force's recommendations puts pressure on Legislature

ST PETER — A recommendation from a recently formed sex offender task force should force legislators to start doing some serious work with the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, according to a lawmaker from one of two cities where offenders are now treated in costly facilities.

It was the first of several sets of recommendations the Sex Offender Civil Commitment Advisory Task Force has been ordered to address. It focused on finding less restrictive alternatives for the state’s committed sex offenders, who are now treated in prison-like buildings in St. Peter and Moose Lake and have little chance of ever being released.

More than 600 offenders are in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program at an annual cost of about $120,000 each. Most have served prison sentences and were sent to St. Peter and Moose Lake by court commitment after release from prison. They remain confined, surrounded by walls and razor-wire fences, while they are treated.

Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St.Peter, said finding alternative treatment facilities won’t be easy. The task force doesn’t only want them to be less restrictive but also in several locations so they are available in every region of the state.

 Morrow said legislators will have the difficult task of balancing public safety with the rights of sex offenders who have served their time in prison. Finding funding won’t be easy, either, he said.

The way sex offenders are now treated in Minnesota is not the norm, Morrow said. Most states have a variety of options, including Texas where a combination of halfway houses, low-security facilities and high-security facilities are used. Federal lawsuits filed by inmates in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program prompted the federal court order to create a task force and improve the situation.

Lawmakers have discussed providing sex offender treatment in regional and residential settings in the past, Morrow said. The discussions didn’t get very far.

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