Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

Judge: MSOP needs major overhaul

 


The Minnesota Federal Court has ruled that the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP), which operates under the Minnesota Civil Commitment and Treatment Act (MCCTA), is in need of major remedies to be constitutionally compliant. The decision by Judge Donavan Frank was dated June 15, 2015, and made public on June 17.

Fourteen offenders housed in the Minnesota Sex Offender treatment facility, with locations in Moose Lake and St. Peter, had brought the class action suit on behalf of more than 700 offenders in the program against the leaders of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, including Lucinda Jesson, the Minnesota Commissioner of Human Services, in 2011.

The plaintiffs have been represented by lead attorney Daniel Gustafson, of Gustafson Gluek, PLLC.

“This order highlights the complete failure of the political system in Minnesota with respect to these important issues but, more importantly, it reaffirms that all people, no matter how disliked they are or how reprehensible their prior conduct, are entitled to Constitutional protection,” Gustafson stated in the press release.

“Now that the Court has ruled, the real work of fixing the problems with the MCCTA and the MSOP will begin. Addressing the issues in the Judge’s Order and making changes to the MCCTA and the MSOP to bring the statute and program into constitutional compliance will require the cooperation of the Governor, Minnesota’s legislative leaders and the Minnesota Attorney General, among others. This program needs to be rebuilt – from the statute to the treatment program to the range of facilities themselves.”

According to the press release, the Court found that the MCCTA is unconstitutional on its face because it fails to provide sufficient protections to committed individuals, such as regular risk assessments, a judicial bypass procedure for reduction in custody and less restrictive alternatives to the high security at the Moose Lake and St. Peter facilities, even when the MSOP knows that is appropriate.

“One of the key factors throughout the case and in the Court’s opinion is that not a single individual of the more than 700 committed to the MSOP has been fully discharged from the program in over 20 years,” it was stated in the press release. “Judge Frank’s decision finds that Minnesota has ‘failed to maintain the program in such a way as to ensure that all class members (plaintiffs) are not unconstitutionally deprived of their right to liberty.’

“The entire system of civilly committing sex offenders, as it is currently written and implemented in Minnesota, does not pass constitutional muster.”

Governor Mark Dayton and Commissioner Jesson, disagreed with the judge’s ruling.

“Both the governor and I maintain that the program IS constitutional,” said Jesson in a MPR radio interview. “The Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the statute in cases in the past. I disagree with the judge’s ruling. We are committed to the constitutionality of the program, and we value the purpose of this valuable service.”

Governor Dayton has stated his support of the program.

“As the federal judge has not ordered any releases, there will be no immediate changes to this program as a result of this ruling.”

Jesson did add that she agreed with the judge’s ruling on some points.

“There has been progress made since I stepped into this job four and a half years ago,” she went on to say in the radio interview. “Two people are living in the community, with oversight. A lot more clients have progressed through treatment and are awaiting the judge’s approval.

“I agree with the judge that we need more risk assessment and evaluations of the clients. The governor agrees with this, that improvements need to be made. That doesn’t mean that the overall program is unconstitutional.”

The trial, which began on Feb. 9 and ran for six weeks, resulting in the Court order, concludes the first phase of the process.

The next phase begins with a pre-hearing conference on Aug. 10 for the parties that will find remedies to the problems. Key decision makers with the state government, including the Governor and legislators, have been asked by Judge Frank to attend the conference.

“Plaintiffs are confident that, with the Court’s guidance and the collaborative efforts of the parties and various Minnesota political leaders, the MSOP can become a constitutionally sufficient program that provides those committed with real treatment and a legitimate opportunity to be rehabilitated and reintegrated back into society,” said Gustafson.

Area legislators are preparing for the pre-hearing conference.

“I fully expected that the program would be ruled unconstitutional,” said Rep. Mike Sundin, DFL-Esko, in a telephone interview on Friday. “I’m just as frustrated as the judge and legislature and what to do with these clients. I’m looking forward to acting on the recommendations that will be coming out of the leadership summit.

“All of the employees and staff at the MSOP facility should be thanked for their work in separating society from the potential danger of those clients. Regardless of individual opinion and public opinion, we need to keep those people off the streets.”

Senator Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, sees the forthcoming role of the legislature.

“We are going to have to make it a real treatment program,” he said, in a statement to media.

This order does not mean that the sex offenders will be released from the MSOP anytime soon.

“The Court is hopeful that the stakeholders will fashion suitable remedies so that the Court need not consider closing the MSOP facilities or releasing a number of individuals from the MSOP with or without conditions,” stated Judge Frank in the Court findings. “As the Court has stated in a number of previous orders and will now say one last time, the time is now for all of the stakeholders in the criminal justice system and civil commitment system to come together and develop policies and pass laws that will not only protect the public safety and address the fears and concerns of all citizens but will preserve the constitutional rights of the class members (plaintiffs).”

Meanwhile, the offenders are acting on their frustrations.

Moose Lake Police Chief Bryce Bogenholm has spoken about the increased frequency of the calls to that department, due, in part, it the frustration of the offenders.

“They are all expecting to get out,” he has told the Carlton County TRIAD members. “They get into fights, and then we are called. That puts a strain on our resources.”

 

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