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Counties see higher bills for Minnesota Sex Offender Program

Keeping the most dangerous sex offenders off the streets of Becker County just became more of your problem.

As part of the Minnesota budget deal, legislators slashed state spending on the Minnesota Sex Offender Program by sticking counties with more of the financial burden.

The Minnesota Sex Offender Program is for offenders who have already completed their prison term, but are still deemed dangerous to society.

Once they are civilly committed to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, it is indefinite, as are the costs.

"We are obligated, by law to provide sex offender treatment," said Bonnie Martin, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, "but until they meet the standard to be released, they remain civilly committed, and so far only one person has ever been released. His release was revoked for non-compliance, though."

Martin says there are currently 618 clients in the program, and it's quickly growing.

While many would agree an institution like this is necessary for public safety, it comes at a high price.

According to MSOP statistics, it costs $120,000 a year to keep one sex offender locked up in its Moose Lake and St. Peter, Minnesota locations.

That's $328 a day each.

Previously, the county that petitioned to have each sex offender committed paid 10 percent of that cost.

As of Aug. 1, legislators upped that to 25 percent, saving the state roughly a million dollars a year or costing counties that much -- however you look at it.

According to Becker County Attorney Mike Fritz, there are currently three sex offenders in the program belonging to Becker County.

Previously, each would have cost the county $12,000 annually to keep locked up.

With the increase, it's $30,000 each -- making it a $54,000 a year difference for three offenders.

State Rep. Jim Abeler, a Republican out of Anoka, pushed for the change, which local State Sen. Keith Langseth, a DFLer from Glyndon, takes issue with.

"I have a huge problem with this sort thing," said Langseth, "because when we hold onto things tight at the state level and push it down to the local level, all it does is increase property taxes, which is the worst kind of tax there is."

Abeler defends the move, saying the idea isn't necessarily designed to be a budget-balancing idea, but to ensure county officials give proper thought and consideration into who they send into the program, especially for counties with higher rates of commitment.

"I feel that charging an increased cost to the counties would create a consistent statewide policy. Hopefully this will spark a statewide dialogue on who should be sent to which treatment program, and when, hopefully with a focus on outcomes."

But Fritz says the change will have no bearing on who he petitions the court to have sent to the program.

"I'm not going to sit back and weigh the cost when we're dealing with somebody dangerous," said Fritz, who adds that county attorneys don't make the determination of who is dangerous and who isn't.

He says they go by the recommendation that comes from the mental health experts charged with evaluating the inmates before being released.

"And if those experts tell us that person is a danger, public safety has to be what will drive our decision," said Fritz, "It doesn't shock me that they (state legislators) are making us more responsible though -- it's a disturbing trend that's happening in many realms."