Some offenders could go to less secure setting

Published 9:44 am Friday, September 13, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS — Officials overseeing the Minnesota Sex Offender Program say six low-functioning sex offenders could be moved to a less restrictive facility in Cambridge next year, if a court approves.

In a letter to legislative leaders Thursday, Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said her agency has been trying to develop alternative placements for clients who can receive treatment in settings that are still secure, but less restrictive than the high-security facilities at Moose Lake and St. Peter. A 2011 legislative auditor report recommended the program try to establish a continuum of treatment for offenders.

“This is one step toward reform and meeting that recommendation,” Jesson told The Associated Press. She said officials are also determining whether some sex offenders with medical issues, such as limited mobility or chronic illnesses, could be transferred.

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The announcement comes amid legal challenges to the program. A class-action lawsuit filed in 2011 on behalf of more than 600 offenders claims the program is unconstitutional because it keeps sex offenders locked up indefinitely after they complete their prison sentences. Only one patient has been successfully released since 1994.

If a court approves the transfer, the six intellectually disabled individuals would be moved to a 16-bed facility in Cambridge. The facility currently houses people with developmental disabilities who are being moved into community settings. Jesson said security at the facility would be upgraded and around-the-clock.

The six range in age from their 40s to their 80s “and will benefit from the less restrictive, yet secure and highly supervised setting at this facility,” she wrote. “Using the Cambridge site for MSOP is a good first step in developing alternative settings in a way that balances our dual mission to provide effective treatment while ensuring public safety.”

Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, said he lives about a half-mile from the facility, and is seeking more information about the planned security upgrades.

“The problem with the program structurally is that the treatment portion of it doesn’t work,” he said of the MSOP. “Until we can get the treatment part of it working, these people in the MSOP will continue to be a public risk. If they’re in the program, if they are contained, and if they are not able to get out and off the campus, the public risk is going to be very, very low.”