Judge orders risk review of sex offenders in civil program

30 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Federal judge orders prompt review of Minnesota sex offenders.

ST. A federal judge has ordered Minnesota’s troubled sex offender program to promptly evaluate all offenders it has under custody, and to release those who no longer pose enough of a risk to the public to be detained. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The latest on a federal judge’s order requiring a review of all sex offenders in Minnesota’s civil commitment program (all times local): Gov.

— Behind razor wire and locked metal doors, hundreds of men waited on a recent morning to be counted, part of the daily routine inside a remote facility here that was built based on a design for a prison. Paul on Thursday ordered the state to conduct independent risk evaluations of all 720 offenders now confined indefinitely at secure treatment centers in Moose Lake and St.

They are being held here indefinitely under a policy known as civil commitment, having been deemed “sexually dangerous” or “sexual psychopathic personalities” by courts. In June, Frank declared the program unconstitutional and called on state leaders to propose reforms or face a “more forceful solution” imposed by the court. Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson says the state lacks the money and staff to do evaluations as quickly as Judge Donovan Frank wants and hasn’t lined up the less-restrictive facilities to house many offenders on the verge of release. In a harshly worded and long-awaited ruling, Frank said the Minnesota Sex Offender Program’s problems are “deeply systemic” and individuals held at MSOP could be safely treated in less-secure facilities in the community.

He lashed out at the state, saying its “actions and inactions have led to the continued operation of an unconstitutional scheme that unjustifiably detains hundreds of committed individuals.” “If the state is going to choose to confine [offenders], they have to do it in a constitutional manner, and today is the day the judge said, ‘That starts now,’” said Dan Gustafson, the lead attorney for a group of sex offenders who sued the state The state has made incremental changes to the program in recent years, such as moving more offenders to the final phase of treatment and contracting with outside firms that could provide housing and treatment for offenders discharged into the community. State officials argue they are properly holding more than 700 offenders they consider too risky to free, even after they have served their prison terms.

Dayton said he’s cognizant of the constitutional rights of the mostly male offenders in the program but says they committed heinous acts to wind up there. He said speeding up evaluations to foster quicker releases could enhance risks. “I don’t want anybody walking the streets of Minnesota or going into a shopping center or anywhere else to be a victim of somebody where that prospective evaluation proved to be incorrect,” the Democratic governor said. John Whitmire, a Democrat who helped push through the overhaul, which included opening a former prison in remote Littlefield to house the detainees. “The way it was, it just looked like incarceration with double jeopardy,” Whitmire said. “This at least holds out a pathway to graduate.” Civil commitment gained support in the 1990s amid reports of heinous sex crimes by repeat offenders.

While offenders in California, Wisconsin, New Jersey and other states are allowed to re-enter society after completing treatment, no one has been fully discharged in Minnesota. The program costs about $120,000 annually per detainee — and a constitutional problem of effectively creating life sentences for people who have fulfilled their criminal punishment. New York had sent home 30 people and moved 64 people out of secure facilities for the civilly committed and into strict supervision and treatment, Frank wrote.

Minnesota now has the highest population of civilly committed offenders per capita — nearly all men — in the nation, Frank found, and the lowest rate of release. The abduction, rape and murder in 2003 of Dru Sjodin, a North Dakota college student, by a sex offender who had been released six months earlier enraged residents and set off a wave of efforts by county attorneys to call on judges to hold such offenders after prison.

Mark Dayton, a Democrat, faced intense criticism before his last election over a plan, later dropped, to release from commitment — with strict conditions — a serial rapist who had admitted attacking at least 60 women. In his order Thursday, Frank said that “political sensitivities” had repeatedly hampered efforts to revamp the policy, and that state officials should urge the Legislature to provide money to make the changes he was requiring, including regular evaluations.

In an interview last week, Dayton said the state’s program met constitutional requirements, and he noted that more people than ever were permitted to leave the facilities under strict supervision. No one wants to take a risk with somebody who would rape or murder somebody’s spouse or child, and look them in the eye and say, ‘We put your family at risk in any way.’” But critics of the program say it is focused more on warehousing and punishing people than on treating them. At least 43 men have died while committed. “There is a pervasive sense of hopelessness among everybody, knowing that there is no out date and knowing that there is no way to complete anything,” said Bolte, who was sent here nine years ago, at age 19, after being convicted as a juvenile of sexually assaulting a family member and later acknowledging sexual contact with other minors during a deeply troubled childhood. Critics also complain that the program treats people like Bolte, whose crimes occurred when they were juveniles, largely the same as it treats adult sex offenders.

Dayton said. “But there’s a line you need to draw for public safety — and these people, if you look at some of their case files, it’s repeated, horrific crimes that put them in this situation.” “Minnesota’s a compassionate state,” he continued, “but there’s a line you’ve got to draw. Dennis Steiner, a balding man who was civilly committed more than two decades ago in lieu of a prison sentence for molesting boys between ages 8 and 17, said he has done various versions of the state treatment program “about seven times.” He lives in a second state complex in St.

Steiner, who wants to move in with his mother, 87, said he would never harm anyone else. “When do you stop proving that to people?” he said. “If I can’t get out on the street and prove it to people, I can’t keep proving it to people in here over and over.”

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