Minnesota’s sex offender program challenged
Published 10:03 am Friday, August 23, 2013
ST. PAUL — Lawyers filed motions Thursday asking a federal judge to declare the Minnesota Sex Offender Program unconstitutional, move the people in it to less restrictive facilities and appoint a court officer to oversee the program.
The filings came in a class-action lawsuit on behalf of more than 600 sex offenders who were committed to the treatment program indefinitely after completing their prison sentences. They’re not free to leave the program’s prisonlike facilities in St. Peter and Moose Lake.
The program has been under fire because of continuing questions about its constitutionality and high costs. Only one patient has ever been successfully released from the program since its creation in 1994. A Department of Human Services review board recently recommended two more offenders for provisional release, which would require court approval.
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In Thursday’s motions, the plaintiffs asked U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank to declare a key statute governing the program unconstitutional as it’s been applied. They said it’s all but impossible to meet the state’s discharge standards. They also want the state to immediately provide less restrictive alternative treatment facilities and re-evaluate each plaintiff to see if they qualify for them. They also want a special master appointed to oversee the program and ensure that it is staffed adequately to give each patient the opportunity to graduate to freedom.
A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 15.
“We have received and will carefully review the plaintiffs’ motions, which were filed today in compliance with court imposed deadlines,” Anne Barry, the state’s deputy commissioner of human services. “We have been making progress toward addressing concerns about the Minnesota Sex Offender Program and have taken several steps that balance client needs with public safety.”
Dan Gustafson, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the program is essentially a life sentence.
“No one ever gets out,” Gustafson said.