Minnesota has one of the toughest sex crime punishment systems in the United States. First, convicted sex offenders face long prison sentences. Then, some may be required to enter a treatment program… with no specified release date.
After quite a bit of recent controversy, however, several lawmakers are now working to revise the program requirements and ease the restrictions on convicted sex offenders. Here’s an explanation of the program itself, the legal processes at play, and what to expect for the future.
Understanding the Minnesota Sex Offender Program
After serving prison sentences, certain sex offenders in our state are ordered by the court to be placed in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP). A judge can assign an individual to the program if they are deemed sexually dangerous or sexually psychopathic according to Minnesota statutes.
Since 1994, over 700 individuals have been placed in the two program facilities that exist at Moose Lake and St. Peter. The length of placement is unspecified, and some argue that the program is excessive and unfair, leaving an individual little hope for release back into the public arena.
The arguments against the program include the following:
- Only one person has been released from the program, which began in 1994. When did that first release happen? In 2016. Eight other residents are on supervised discharge.
- Release is not guaranteed for anyone, though almost one-third of the residents at the St. Peter facility are on a reintegration track that involves time in a Community Preparation Services center.
- The courts have sole power to decide which sex offenders to admit to the program and which ones are not required to attend.
- The program is costly to maintain, and taxpayers are footing the bill.
- Treatment programs should hold the possibility of release, otherwise they can’t truly be considered rehabilitation centers.
- If the courts deem that certain sex offenders are too dangerous to release into public life, a life sentence in prison would be a more straightforward punitive measure that provides closure for the sex offender, rather than false hope.
- MSOP admits twice as many sex offenders as neighboring states.
- Sex offenders who committed crimes as juveniles have a repeat offense rate between two and three percent, much lower than the repeat offense rate of other crimes.
MSOP and Constitutionality
In 2015, U. S. District Judge Donovan Frank said the program was unconstitutional after a class-action lawsuit was filed by the 700 program residents. The case traveled to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, and in January 2017, the court overruled Frank’s declaration. When the case recently headed to the U. S. Supreme Court, the judges declined to review it.
Currently more than 20 sex offenders are waiting for space to open for them in the Community Preparation Services program, so they can get on the reintegration track. Others have been granted provisional discharge, yet the state has nowhere to place them. Two towns, Dayton and Kasota Township, have blocked efforts to move some offenders to local homes.
Two offenders are petitioning the courts for full discharge. One man has made progress, getting help from a panel of judges who say he no longer needs full supervision or regular treatment. The judges call his current confinement unconstitutional, and his case now lies with the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Another man has the longest residence term and the longest provisional discharge among all program participants. His petition for full release will soon go before the courts.
This summer, the program revoked one man’s provisional discharge. His lawyer says he did not commit another crime, but had a conditional violation of his release. Now he’s back inside the walls of MSOP.
What’s on the Horizon for MSOP?
Governor Mark Dayton has promised to push for program reforms. He has asked the state for more funding and for an improved, efficient use of current resources. This year his proposal for $18.4 million in improvements to the program was denied. Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper will ask the state again for money that will offer residents different housing options.
Lawmakers who want program reform are now working on their own to propose changes. Some momentum has been lost since the U. S. Supreme Court refused the case. However, because the troubles with the MSOP have only increased in its 23-year existence, a push for reform is still being discussed by legislators on either side of the political aisle.
If you have been charged with a sex crime in Minnesota, it’s essential that you get legal representation to protect yourself from these kinds of severe consequences. Get help today from a proven criminal defense attorney.
About the Author:
Christopher Keyser is a Minneapolis-based criminal and DWI defense attorney known for fighting aggressively for his clients and utilizing innovative tactics to get the most positive results. He has been featured in numerous media outlets due to the breadth and depth of his knowledge, and recognized as a Minnesota Super Lawyers Rising Star (2014–2015), a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013–2015), and a Top 40 Under 40 Attorney (2013–2015).