Sex offenders seek risk evaluations, replacement of MSOP facilities

Attorneys representing Minnesota's confined sex offenders proposed sweeping changes on Wednesday to overhaul the state's treatment program, which has been ruled unconstitutional.

Attorneys representing Minnesota's confined sex offenders proposed sweeping changes on Wednesday to overhaul the state's treatment program, which has been ruled unconstitutional.

The remedies include immediate risk evaluations of all current patients confined in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, changes to commitment and discharge standards, and replacement of the high-security facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter.

The detailed proposals came just more than a week after the attorneys met behind closed doors with U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank and top state officials and lawmakers, including Gov. Mark Dayton.

"Although the law is clear that federal courts should give the state the opportunity to suggest corrective action ... they have failed to do so in this case even after being offered several opportunities by the court," attorney Dan Gustafson wrote in a 30-page memorandum.

Frank in June ruled that the 21-year-old program was unconstitutional, writing in an order that "there is something very wrong with this state's method of dealing with sex offenders." The judge stopped short of releasing patients, but ordered the parties to begin immediate remedy discussions.


The plaintiffs' proposed reforms - 18 in total - seek to have every patient evaluated by an independent provider by the end of the year. The risk assessments would determine whether each offender should continue to be confined, discharged or transferred to a less-restrictive treatment facility.

The proposals also call for annual evaluations of each of the program's approximately 720 patients, and the opportunity for individual patients to petition the court for release or reduction in custody.

A more significant reform could involve the closure of the program's two current facilities. The attorneys asked the court to require the state to develop and implement new facilities that could handle offenders needing varying levels of treatment and security.

"These facilities must be a reasonable alternative to initial commitment at the maximum security facilities at Moose Lake or St. Peter and for a reduction in custody for patients originally committed to Moose Lake or St. Peter," Gustafson wrote.

Other remedies would involve remedies to the state's civil commitment policies and revisions to MSOP policies to require equal standards for commitment and discharge.

Some of the key proposals are in line with suggestions offered last week by Dayton, but they may come with added expense.

Dayton offered two major proposals at a news conference last week: biennial assessments of all offenders, which he said would cost about $7 million annually, and construction of new facilities, at a cost of approximately $15 million.

However, the governor added that the bonding process for funding, followed by planning and actual construction of buildings, could take more than a year.


The state has until Sept. 21 to file its official recommendations with the court. Frank scheduled a Sept. 30 hearing for oral argument on proposed remedies.

The judge has moved for swift implementation of remedies and the state has complied, even as it pursues an appeal at the circuit level. Dayton said Frank indicated that he'd like to see changes made by March, when the next legislative session begins.

Sex offenders end up in the MSOP via civil commitment by the state, after serving prison or jail time.

Treatment is voluntary and consists of three phases. But the treatment program has been criticized as inconsistent and ineffective. Offenders say the requirements are unclear and 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.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press contributed to this report.

Related Topics: CRIME
Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or
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