Less Restrictive Alternatives Considered for Sex Offenders

Updated: 06/17/2013 2:42 PM KSTP.com By: Mark Albert

A court-ordered task force is racing to meet an early December deadline for providing recommendations on less restrictive alternatives for Minnesota's hundreds of committed sex offenders, who are currently held in a secure program that has yet to fully graduate a single person in its two-decade existence.

"Our recommendation is you get some money allocated for less restrictive alternatives; you get them going. Or the federal court will do something," warned retired Minnesota Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, chairman of the panel.

The 20-member Sex Offender Civil Commitment Task Force was created as part of the settlement talks in a class-action lawsuit filed by some of the state's committed sex offenders. U.S. District Court Chief Magistrate Judge Arthur J. Boylan issue the order in August.

The task force's initial recommendations on less restrictive - and less expensive - alternatives to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program's secure facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter are due Dec. 3.

Last Friday, Judge Boylan issued a second order creating a five-member MSOP Program Evaluation Team to review the treatment records of committed sex offenders, known as "clients," who have been participating for at least 36 months in a treatment phase but have not advanced beyond their current phase. That evaluation is to be completed by April 15, when findings and recommendations are due.

At issue is the program's nonexistent record of successfully treating sex offenders so that they graduate from the program and are no longer considered a danger to society. The sex offenders' lawsuit has raised questions as to whether a program with its track record and indefinite nature is constitutional.

Only two clients have been provisionally discharged, the most recent earlier this year. But he is still heavily monitored and lives in a metro-area halfway house. The program currently has 669 clients; only 10 are in the last part of treatment prior to provisional discharge, according to the Department of Human Services, which runs the program.

Dr. Michael D. Thompson, president of the Minnesota Chapter of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers and an ex-officio member of the task force, told his colleagues Thursday the lack of successful graduates does not reflect on the quality or effectiveness of the treatment provided.

"Men have not been released from MSOP because of political factors," Dr. Thompson said during the more than three hour hearing.

The committee wrestled over several potentially controversial ideas, such as preventing local communities from blocking the transfer of a sex offender to a treatment program in their area, a policy known in a draft recommendation as "siting." Read the draft recommendations.

Sen. Tony Lourey, a task force member who sits on the Senate Health and Human Services committee, bluntly acknowledged the political ramifications of bringing such a recommendation to elected lawmakers at the Capitol for a vote.

"This scares me to death," Sen. Lourey said of siting. "It's a non-starter. We can't carry this through the Legislature."

Another possible recommendation would be for a state panel of judges, instead of judges in each county, to make commitment decisions, thereby making decisions more uniform.

Anne Barry, who oversees the program as deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Dept. of Human Services, said the department is "looking forward to the recommendations of the task force."

"I think it has a kind of credibility or legitimacy that we've been unsuccessful in advancing," Barry said in an interview Thursday.