Judge in MSOP case issues warning to state officials

A federal judge on Wednesday issued a sharply worded order requiring state officials to provide remedies to fix flaws in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.

Minnesota Sex Offender Program
The Minnesota Sex Offender Program facility in Moose Lake. (2011 file / News Tribune)
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A federal judge on Wednesday issued a sharply worded order requiring state officials to provide remedies to fix flaws in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.

Judge Donovan Frank ruled in June that the residential program, as it exists now, is unconstitutional. On Monday, he met with state leaders to discuss possible solutions - but Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and other state officials have continued to defend the program's constitutionality, and Dayton said he intends to appeal Frank's ruling.

On Wednesday, Frank outlined a timeline for both the state and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit seeking changes to the MSOP to provide proposed remedies. He set a hearing on the proposals for Sept. 30.

In doing so, he wrote that it "would be in the best interests of everyone, including the public at large," for the state to start identifying solutions to "identified constitutional infirmities" with the program.

"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," Frank wrote.


"Any delay by the state to prepare for the inevitable relief to be imposed by the court in light of the previously determined constitutional violations would only increase the risk to public safety."

Sex offenders end up in the MSOP via civil commitment by the state, after serving prison or jail time. About 720 residents are in the program, which includes facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter. The program, in its current form, began in 1994.

Treatment is voluntary and consists of three phases. But the treatment program has been criticized as inconsistent and ineffective. Offenders say that the requirements are unclear and that it's difficult to move from one phase to the next. Some offenders remain in one phase for years.

In 2011, residents filed a federal class-action lawsuit, claiming that the program amounts to a prison sentence with no expiration date.

Dayton on Monday proposed two possible fixes for the program - implementing regular biennial assessments of all offenders, or funding construction of less-restrictive facilities. But he said the bonding process for funding, followed by planning and actual construction of buildings, could take more than a year.

Dayton said after Monday's meeting that Frank has indicated he'd like to see changes made before March, when the next legislative session begins.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press contributed to this report.

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