Sex offenders civilly committed to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, with treatment centers in Moose Lake and St. Peter, seldom are released.
A task force has been set up to review the process for the civil commitment of sex offenders, by a federal court order, and has brought back a recommendation after 20 public meetings of the task force over a 14-month period. The recommendations were released on December 2.
According to a letter from the law firm of Robins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi, LLP, to Lucinda E. Jesson, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, it was stated that “The Task Force was unanimous in its conclusion that the serious problems that exist in the current program can and should be addressed by legislative actions that:
- Rationalize the process,
- Make it more objective, and
- Eliminate to the greatest extent possible the influence of politics on commitment, placement and release decisions, with the ultimate goal that the rights of those persons subject to civil commitment proceedings and the interests of the public will be better protected.”
In the report from the task force, it was stated that “Minnesota has the highest per capita number of civilly committed sex offenders of any state that employs civil commitment. It also has the lowest rate of released from commitment.
“There is broad consensus that the current system of civil commitment of sex offender in Minnesota captures too many people and keeps many of them too long. The task force believes that these issues can be addressed to some degree by changes in several aspects of the current civil commitment process: Screening for Commitment Consideration, Petitioning for Commitment, Commitment Procedures, Commitment Criteria, and Procedures and Standards for Reduction in Custody."
It was also stated that “for the purposes of this report, the existence of a civil commitment process for those sex offenders most likely to reoffend is taken as a given.”
The task force recognized that civil commitment of sex offenders only addressed on element of the problem of sexual violence. The task force “urged the Legislature to direct the appropriate state agencies to develop a comprehensive program for the prevention of sexual violence. The task force believes that this may best be accomplished through the creation of a long term executive level working group charged with establishing goals and evidence-based strategic objectives consistent with the vision, goals and strategies of the Minnesota Department of Health, June 2009 plan, The Promise of Primary Prevention of Sexual Violence: A five-Year Plan to Prevent Sexual Violence and Exploitation in Minnesota.”
The task force recommended that the legislature should also allocate funds and “include public education on the civil commitment of sex offenders so that the public better understands not only the reasons for commitment but also the reasons for discharge from commitment in appropriate cases.”
Under the Sentencing section of the report, it was stated: “Sexual offenses carry specific sentences, which include the possibility of extended correctional supervision following release from confinement. While treatment options are available through the Department of Corrections, they are not specifically incorporated in the criminal sentencing process. Civil commitment generally is pursued in anticipation of an offender’s supervised release date which comes after incarceration for two-thirds of his sentence.”
The task force made “no recommendations concerning legislative changes in the criminal sentencing laws, or in the jurisdiction of the DOC,” it was stated.
The task force made recommendations for screening, for petitioning, for commitment procedures, commitment criteria and reduction in custody.
The task force was made up of 20 members including judges, a representative from the Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the sheriff’s association, public defenders, senators and representatives of the Minnesota Legislature, a law professor and a partner in a law firm, the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission, a representative from Mental Health and Development Disabilities, a county attorney, commissioners and a representative from the Minnesota Chapter of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers.
According to a report on the Northland’s News Center and Twin Cities.com, clients at the Minnesota Sex Offender Program listened via telephone on December 18 to arguments by attorneys who said that the offenders being held indefinitely is unconstitutional.
The attorneys faced off against state attorneys, who said that there was not enough information for the attorneys for the plaintiffs to make their case.
U. S. District Judge Donovan Frank listened to the arguments and said that he would take the requests under advisement. He said that he was going to give close scrutiny to the program.
Judge Frank said that he will rule on the motions before the court, including constitutionally of the program, within 60 days. The judge plans to visit the facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter before making a decision.