Judge Orders Risk Review of Sex Offenders in Civil Program

29 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Federal judge orders prompt review of Minnesota sex offenders.

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. — 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.

His decision undoubtedly sets the stage for an appeal by state officials and lawyers, who argue they are properly holding more than 700 offenders they consider too risky to free. Judge Donovan Frank ruled the civil confinement program unconstitutional this spring but stopped short of requiring the state to step in or shutting it down altogether, opting to lay out several options to bring the program into good standing. FILE – This April 19, 2010 file photo shows the Moose Lake, Minn., facility for sex offenders that was likened by offenders housed there in a lawsuit to a second prison sentence rather than the treatment program is was designed to be. 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. The lead attorney for the plaintiffs, who are put in the program after they complete any prison sentences, said he expected an order Thursday. “A lot of eyes are on this one and it is quite likely that other challenges will emerge in the wake of this one,” University of Kansas law professor Corey Rayburn Yung, who has studied legal issues surrounding sex offender programs, said earlier this year.

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. Frank also said if the state doesn’t comply, he reserves the right to stop new commitments and hold the state in contempt. “Given the (program’s) decades-long history of operating an unconstitutional civil commitment program, the deeply systemic nature of the problems plaguing this state’s sex offender civil commitment scheme, and the minimal progress made toward remedying any constitutional infirmities since the start of this litigation four years ago, the court concludes that it must exercise its broad remedial power,” Frank said. The state has the highest per capita lockup rate, and just a handful of offenders have been provisionally released to community-based settings in its 20-plus-year history. 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.

That’s created an expensive program — $120,000 annually per detainee — and a constitutional problem of effectively creating life sentences for people who have fulfilled their criminal punishment. The investigation also found that nearly half of the men detained for treatment while living in halfway houses and other facilities were actually sent back to prison for breaking the program’s rules. “My sense was that we had to make changes or a federal court is going to strike down the whole program, and we need this program — some of these people would scare the hell out of you,” said State Senator 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,” Mr. An appeal could leave offenders in legal limbo for months. “The stark reality is that there is something very wrong with the state’s method of dealing with sex offenders in a program that has never fully discharged anyone,” Frank wrote. 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. 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, Judge Frank wrote.

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 their prison terms. And costs have soared — to about $125,000 per resident per year, at least three times the cost of an ordinary prison inmate in Minnesota, the judge said. 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. Dayton said the state’s program met constitutional requirements, and noted that more people than ever were permitted to leave the facilities under strict supervision.

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. 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. 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.

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. Peter, southwest of the Twin Cities, where offenders in the later phases of treatment are housed, and allowed increased privileges in a dormlike setting. 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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