A Prison Disguised as a Treatment Center
The Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) aims to provide court-ordered sex offender treatment to people who complete prison sentences, usually for criminal sexual conduct offenses. Once a prisoner’s sentence is complete, he is civilly committed to the MSOP for an “unspecified period of time.” People can be civilly committed if a judge determines that individual is a “sexual psychopathic personality” or a “sexually dangerous person,” or both. As of April 1, 2015, the MSOP provided treatment for 715 people between its Moose Lake and St. Peter locations. The program claims to provide rehabilitative services through implementation of education classes, therapeutic recreation, and vocational work program assignments. But according to one judge, once people are sent to the MSOP, they don’t ever leave.
In June 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank ruled the Minnesota Sex Offender Program Unconstitutional, saying no one confined there has “any realistic hope of ever getting out.” After a class action lawsuit was brought by several “patients” at the MSOP, Judge Frank sided with the civilly committed sex offenders for the basic reason that patients have no realistic possibility of release, even if they do well in treatment and are at low risk of committing new crimes. After a trial, Judge Frank held it is undisputed that some of the MSOP residents no longer meet the criteria for civil commitment to the program and could be released to less-restrictive settings. Although Judge Frank ruled the program unconstitutional, he did not order specific changes to be made, leaving many questions unanswered. Instead, he simply urged political leaders to bring proposed remedies.
Opponents of the MSOP and those who agree with Judge Frank believe the program treads on the fundamental rights of the civilly committed because they are held indefinitely with seemingly no stable criteria for release. Supporters of the MSOP argue that it is necessary to keep dangerous sex offenders out of the community. Several lawmakers – including Governor Mark Dayton – are hesitant to appear soft on crime or sympathetic to the rights of criminally convicted sex offenders. As a political battle ensues, immediate changes to the program appear unlikely.
Keyser Law, PA is a criminal defense law firm with offices in Minneapolis and Stillwater. We represent Minnesotans facing criminal charges throughout the state, including criminal sexual conduct charges and sex crimes. Call our office at (612) 338-5007 for a free consultation.