State defies judge’s order to propose changes to sex offender program

Instead of offering remedies for the shortcomings of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, as ordered by a federal judge, state officials this week issued a 33-page document decrying the opposing side's proposals and questioning the court's power t...

Instead of offering remedies for the shortcomings of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, as ordered by a federal judge, state officials this week issued a 33-page document decrying the opposing side’s proposals and questioning the court’s power to enforce changes.

U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank recently ruled in a class-action lawsuit that the sex offender program is unconstitutional. Frank ordered the parties to submit changes to the existing program.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs - sex offenders residing in MSOP facilities - submitted their suggestions in August.

The state, which operates the MSOP, was to submit its proposals by Sept. 21. The Minnesota attorney general’s office, representing the state, submitted a document - but there were no proposed remedies, only pushback.

“The court cannot use this litigation to accomplish wholesale public policy changes to sex offender civil commitment in Minnesota, as plaintiffs appear to want,” the state’s brief stated.


Frank had warned that if the state continued to take no action, the court may be compelled to order “a more forceful solution.”

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Wednesday.

The 21-year-old program, which houses more than 700 convicted sex offenders who have been civilly committed by the state after serving jail or prison time and claims to be a treatment program, has been under fire for years. Critics say the program fails to adequately treat offenders or work toward their release, essentially amounting to a prison sentence with no expiration date. Frank has called the program draconian and unconstitutional.

Only a handful of offenders have been granted provisional release.

In 2011, MSOP residents filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the state. Frank issued a 76-page ruling June 17, ordering stakeholders to come together and find real solutions, saying, “there is something very wrong with this state’s method of dealing with sex offenders.”

Those stakeholders, including many top-ranking state officials, attended a closed-door meeting Aug. 10 to discuss possible remedies.

Two days later, Frank issued a stern warning: “Recognizing the history of the state’s failure to meet minimum constitutional requirements, as well as the continuing injury and harm resulting from these serious violations, the court notes that, at some point, if the state proves unwilling or incapable of remedying the constitutional violations, to which insufficient funding is not a defense, that failure may demand a more forceful solution.”

The plaintiffs submitted 18 possible remedies, including: immediate risk assessments of all MSOP residents, annual assessments, creation of less restrictive facilities, requiring MSOP to petition for release on behalf of clients, and changes to the intake and discharge processes.


The state countered by saying many of the suggested efforts already exist - such as external expert reviews of the program or a judicial bypass for an offender’s legal challenge to commitment - and stated that some are not constitutionally required, like less restrictive facilities or changes to treatment.

Gov. Mark Dayton has defended the program, calling it the right thing to do.

And in its brief filed Monday, the state reiterated its stance that the program is constitutional and indicated the possibility of appealing Frank’s June decision.

The state asked the court to reject the plaintiffs’ “unnecessarily overbroad and intrusive” remedies, saying they don’t consider “legitimate interests of state and local authorities.”

And, the state said the proposed timelines are unrealistic and some suggested changes would “require legislative action not in defendants’ control.”

The court should grant “limited remedies that are permitted by law,” the state urged.

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