March 6, 2014 | Volume 119, Issue No. 10

Sex offender lawsuit to proceed

U.S. District of Minnesota Judge Donovan Frank has allowed the class action lawsuit by sex offenders in Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter to proceed, according to a 75-page ruling issued on February 19.

“If the evidence requires it, the Court will act,” stated the judge in the ruling. “But it is the Minnesota Legislature that is best equipped to develop policies and pass laws — within the limits of the Constitution — to protect public safety and preserve the rights of the class.”

The sex offenders had brought the class action lawsuit against the MSOP in 2011, citing violations to several amendments to the United States Constitution, the Minnesota Constitution, the Reconstruction Civil Rights Act of 1871, Patients’ Bill of Rights, Civil Commitment and Treatment Act, and administrative rules and internal agency policies.

It was stated in the suit that the plaintiffs — the offenders — are civilly committed to the MSOP.

The MSOP is a state-operated program for male sex offenders, operated by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. At present, there are more than 700 offenders in the program in the two facilities.

Only one offender has earned release, and he re-offended and was taken into custody once again, said Executive Director Dennis Benson, in an interview some time ago.

The offenders often have served prison sentences and are then transferred to MSOP, with little hope of ever being released back into their communities.

“My son is 30 years old, and life is passing him by,” wrote one mother of an offender at MSOP on the MSOP blog. “He can’t do anything about it. He should have a job, own a home and have friends.

“His crimes are relatively minor, there wasn’t any violence. These are not the type of crimes that should cause a young man to have the most important years of his life taken away from him.

“There is nothing civil about the way he and the others are treated. Medical care is less than most farm animals receive. And there is no psychiatrist/psychologist on staff. The previous one has quit.

“How can that be called a mental health treatment program when there is no lead mental health professional on the payroll?

“The MSOP is a joke but not a funny joke. It’s a waste of money and a waste of lives of so many men that do NOT belong there, when there are good treatment facilities and programs that don’t cost as us taxpayers millions of dollars a year.

“These men should be in a less restrictive program so they can get jobs and financially contribute to their own care and treatment. All do better with more family and friend support; MSOP makes it very difficult for these guys to have that.

“Minnesota has a low recidivism rate, and with ankle monitoring and intense supervision, that rate could be even lower. There would be money for other things, like more counselors in the schools to monitor the kids for signs of abuse.”

The lawsuit states the facilities and procedures for the treatment of sex offenders changed in 1994, and the population of the facilities “increased at an alarming rate.”

“Since 1994 through 2011, the administration of the MSOP was replaced with previous administration of the Minnesota Department of Corrections,” the lawsuit states. “The policies and procedures drastically changed to a Maximum Security facility instead of a treatment facility. MSOP is surrounded by double razor wire fences.”

The lawsuit lists inadequate diet, inadequate treatment, restriction on movement and excessive restrictions among the complaints. Violations of the 14th Amendment, for the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, violations of the First Amendment, which gives rights to the freedom of religion, speech, press, association (right to peacefully assemble), the right to petition for the redress of grievances, and the freedom of communication (Internet, unmonitored and unrestricted telephone use, uncensored mail), are listed.

There were also violations of the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits searches and seizure of property for probable cause.

Judge Frank denied requests for less restrictive treatment facilities. He also declined to remove the sex offender treatment program from state control. He declined motions from the state to dismiss 12 of 13 counts filed by the offenders.

Judge Frank ordered a court-appointed team of experts to visit the facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter to review policies and procedures and patient charts.

“Time and time again, professional assessments have identified grave deficiencies in the program,” Judge Frank wrote in the ruling. “Regardless of claims raised in this case, and irrespective of the Court’s ultimate ruling on the constitutional questions which with it is presented, the interests of justice require that substantial changes be made to the sex offender civil commitment scheme.”

Judge Frank added that the MSOP is regarded as “one of the most draconian sex offender programs in existence.”

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