Does Minnesota Sex Offender Program set up residents to fail?Julian Caprice, 51, a convicted rapist, says he sees two ways to get out of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program at Moose Lake: Complete the treatment or hope the courts close the facility down.
Julian Caprice, 51, a convicted rapist, says he sees two ways to get out of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program at Moose Lake: Complete the treatment or hope the courts close the facility down.
But like many residents, Caprice, who has been there since 1996, said MSOP
doesn’t offer the treatment he needs and instead focuses on punishing him for small infractions.
“I’m just stuck,” said Caprice.
Among the program’s rules: Residents are prohibited from lending money, shaking hands or sharing food or newspapers. Break them, Caprice said, and you’re not likely get out of Phase One.
“It’s trivial stuff that prevents you from getting to Phase Two,” Caprice said. “And until you get to Phase Two, you’re just stuck. You’re doing the same core groups every day. I’m not going to say that they’re meaningless. … They just have me spinning my wheels. I’m not really getting anywhere. You’re taking the same things over and over because you’re not in Phase Two.”
Bringing condiments from the cafeteria back to a room is another rule infraction, one Caprice said he’s violated many times.
Moose Lake’s rules are essentially set up for residents to fail, said Terri Port Wright, a Cloquet attorney who has a state contract to represent MSOP clients when they’re charged with a crime while inside the facility.
“The rules that are established at MSOP are not rules that any of us could comply with 100 percent of the time,” she said.
Dennis Benson, executive director of MSOP, said many of the residents at Moose Lake come from backgrounds where they didn’t have to follow rules, and they must learn to change that behavior.
“It’s just necessary to have some level of order and protocol,” Benson said. “There are rules everywhere in life, and that’s an important thing that many of these people struggle with at early stages of treatment.”
So if Caprice knows he has to follow the rules to progress through treatment, why break them?
“You’re right. If you know it’s a rule, it’s a rule,” he said. “But in the big scheme of things, it’s like, OK, I brought some syrup, or I brought some seasoning, or I brought some hot sauce for this nasty stuff you call food. ... Why should that stop me from getting the treatment I need?”
The legislative auditor’s March report agreed with resident complaints that the facility was too punitive. It found that security counselors documented “irrelevant behaviors of clients and were overly concerned regarding minor violations” and “evidence that clients were sometimes treated with suspicion, their reasonable frustrations were considered treatment problems, and they were sometimes punished for behavior that appeared to be normal.”
“The program still struggles with staff who are overly suspicious of clients or who expect impossible perfection. This can make progress in treatment difficult,” the report said.
As a result, the auditor’s report and data provided to the News Tribune showed, advancing through treatment at Moose Lake has proved extremely difficult for the vast majority of residents.
About 81 percent of the clients at Moose Lake participate in treatment, but only 15 percent had advanced to the second phase as of June 31, 2009, according to the most recent data released by MSOP.
The last time a transfer of clients was made from Moose Lake to St. Peter, which offers advanced phases of treatment, was October 2009, according to the auditor’s report. Meanwhile, as the client population at Moose Lake has grown by 136 offenders since 2009, it has dropped by 30 in St. Peter.
Only seven clients have made it to the most advanced phase at St. Peter, where residents live outside the barbed-wire fences but are still monitored with ankle bracelets. And only one client has been recommended for release by a Special Review Board. The commissioner of the Human Services Department, which runs MSOP, has opposed his release.
Clients stuck in Phase One at Moose Lake are getting behavioral treatment but not treatment related to their sex offenses, according to the auditor’s report.
However, Benson attributed the slow treatment progression at Moose Lake mostly to the difficulty in treating high-risk sex
“The narcissism up here is enormous. And it’s overwhelming, and the blame … it’s somebody else’s fault,” he said. “The arrogance of these people and the lack of remorse and guilt and shame, and getting in touch with the impact they had on victims, in many cases is nonexistent.”
Need to confess, but some won’t
Indeed, part of the problem for residents like Caprice is that to successfully complete sex offender treatment, they have to acknowledge they’re sex offenders and fully admit to their crimes.
In an interview with the News Tribune, Caprice didn’t seem willing to do that.
He was convicted of raping a woman at gunpoint in 1979 after helping remove her car from a snowbank.
Caprice said of the crime: “We went to a location, we sat there and talked, and that’s where it supposedly turned into sexual assault.”
He served four years in prison. After he got out in 1985, he said, he beat his ex-girlfriend with a belt “and had sex with her.”
But Caprice was actually convicted of raping his ex-girlfriend. After getting out of jail for that crime, he went over to the ex-girlfriend’s mother’s house and raped her as retaliation for convincing her daughter to go to police.
Despite his reluctance to fully acknowledge his crimes, he said he knows he has to admit he’s a sex offender to progress through the program.
“That’s where my struggles come at,” he said. “I know that. To sit here and do otherwise now would be going against everything that’s instilled in you here.”
Since 2002, Caprice has also been charged five separate times with indecent exposure while at MSOP, but each of those cases was dismissed.
Other residents believe they’re wrongly labeled as sex offenders.
Steven Housman, for example, acknowledges that he molested a 7-year-old girl in 1983 when he was 29, a crime for which he spent 90 days in jail. But he claims he agreed to plead guilty in 1994 to charges that he molested his two children because he wanted to avoid the possibility of several years in prison.
Largely because he refuses to acknowledge he was guilty of those crimes, he was committed to Moose Lake in 2009. The county that sought his commitment also feared that he was grooming another family to abuse, allegations Housman denies.
Housman said he would enroll in MSOP’s treatment if he felt it would help him.
“There is no treatment here. It’s a punitive detention,” he said. “If there was treatment, I would have went through it. Because I want out of here.”
Housman was among the four who tried to escape last year.
“It was a crime of necessity,” Housman said of the escape. “I don’t believe I’m ever going to get out. There is no legal way of ever getting out.”